Part 1 out of 10
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Edition 11 editing by Leigh Little.
THE PARISH BOY'S PROGRESS by CHARLES DICKENS
TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN AND OF THE
CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many
reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to
which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently
common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and
in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not
trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible
consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all
events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head
of this chapter.
For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow
and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of
considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any
name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that
these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that
being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have
possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and
faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any
age or country.
Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a
workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable
circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to
say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for
Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact
is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to
take upon himself the office of respiration,--a troublesome
practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy
existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock
mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the
next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now,
if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by
careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and
doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and
indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by,
however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by
an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such
matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point
between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles,
Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the
inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been
imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could
reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been
possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much
longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.
As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of
his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over
the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was
raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly
articulated the words, 'Let me see the child, and die.'
The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the
fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub
alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to
the bed's head, said, with more kindness than might have been
expected of him:
'Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.'
'Lor bless her dear heart, no!' interposed the nurse, hastily
depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of
which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.
'Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have,
sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on 'em dead
except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she'll know better
than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it
is to be a mother, there's a dear young lamb do.'
Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother's prospects
failed in producing its due effect. The patient shook her head,
and stretched out her hand towards the child.
The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold
white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over
her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back--and died.
They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had
stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been
strangers too long.
'It's all over, Mrs. Thingummy!' said the surgeon at last.
'Ah, poor dear, so it is!' said the nurse, picking up the cork of
the green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she
stooped to take up the child. 'Poor dear!'
'You needn't mind sending up to me, if the child cries, nurse,'
said the surgeon, putting on his gloves with great deliberation.
'It's very likely it _will_ be troublesome. Give it a little gruel
if it is.' He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on
his way to the door, added, 'She was a good-looking girl, too;
where did she come from?'
'She was brought here last night,' replied the old woman, 'by the
overseer's order. She was found lying in the street. She had
walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but
where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.'
The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand. 'The
old story,' he said, shaking his head: 'no wedding-ring, I see.
The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse,
having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on
a low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant.
What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver
Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his
only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a
beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to
have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he
was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in
the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his
place at once--a parish child--the orphan of a workhouse--the
humble, half-starved drudge--to be cuffed and buffeted through
the world--despised by all, and pitied by none.
Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an
orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and
overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.
TREATS OF OLIVER TWIST'S GROWTH, EDUCATION, AND BOARD
For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a
systematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up
by hand. The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan
was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish
authorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the
workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled
in 'the house' who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist,
the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need. The
workhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not.
Upon this, the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely
resolved, that Oliver should be 'farmed,' or, in other words,
that he should be dispatched to a branch-workhouse some three
miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders
against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without
the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under
the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received
the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny
per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny's worth per week
is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for
sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and
make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom
and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had
a very accurate perception of what was good for herself. So, she
appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own
use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a
shorter allowance than was originally provided for them. Thereby
finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself a
very great experimental philosopher.
Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who
had a great theory about a horse being able to live without
eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he had got his own
horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have
rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at
all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to
have had his first comfortable bait of air. Unfortunately for,
the experimental philosophy of the female to whose protecting care
Oliver Twist was delivered over, a similar result usually
attended the operation of _her_ system; for at the very moment when
the child had contrived to exist upon the smallest possible
portion of the weakest possible food, it did perversely happen in
eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from
want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got
half-smothered by accident; in any one of which cases, the
miserable little being was usually summoned into another world,
and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this.
Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interesting
inquest upon a parish child who had been overlooked in turning up
a bedstead, or inadvertently scalded to death when there happened
to be a washing--though the latter accident was very scarce,
anything approaching to a washing being of rare occurrence in the
farm--the jury would take it into their heads to ask troublesome
questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously affix their
signatures to a remonstrance. But these impertinences were
speedily checked by the evidence of the surgeon, and the
testimony of the beadle; the former of whom had always opened the
body and found nothing inside (which was very probable indeed),
and the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish
wanted; which was very self-devotional. Besides, the board made
periodical pilgrimages to the farm, and always sent the beadle
the day before, to say they were going. The children were neat
and clean to behold, when _they_ went; and what more would the
It cannot be expected that this system of farming would produce
any very extraordinary or luxuriant crop. Oliver Twist's ninth
birthday found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in
stature, and decidedly small in circumference. But nature or
inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's
breast. It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare
diet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may
be attributed his having any ninth birth-day at all. Be this as
it may, however, it was his ninth birthday; and he was keeping it
in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young
gentleman, who, after participating with him in a sound
thrashing, had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be
hungry, when Mrs. Mann, the good lady of the house, was
unexpectedly startled by the apparition of Mr. Bumble, the
beadle, striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate.
'Goodness gracious! Is that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?' said Mrs.
Mann, thrusting her head out of the window in well-affected
ecstasies of joy. '(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats
upstairs, and wash 'em directly.)--My heart alive! Mr. Bumble,
how glad I am to see you, sure-ly!'
Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead of
responding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit,
he gave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed
upon it a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a
'Lor, only think,' said Mrs. Mann, running out,--for the three
boys had been removed by this time,--'only think of that! That I
should have forgotten that the gate was bolted on the inside, on
account of them dear children! Walk in sir; walk in, pray, Mr.
Bumble, do, sir.'
Although this invitation was accompanied with a curtsey that
might have softened the heart of a church-warden, it by no means
mollified the beadle.
'Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,'
inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, 'to keep the parish
officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon
porochial business with the porochial orphans? Are you aweer,
Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and
'I'm sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two of the
dear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,'
replied Mrs. Mann with great humility.
Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his
importance. He had displayed the one, and vindicated the other.
'Well, well, Mrs. Mann,' he replied in a calmer tone; 'it may be
as you say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come on
business, and have something to say.'
Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brick
floor; placed a seat for him; and officiously deposited his
cocked hat and cane on the table before him. Mr. Bumble wiped
from his forehead the perspiration which his walk had engendered,
glanced complacently at the cocked hat, and smiled. Yes, he
smiled. Beadles are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.
'Now don't you be offended at what I'm a going to say,' observed
Mrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness. 'You've had a long walk,
you know, or I wouldn't mention it. Now, will you take a little
drop of somethink, Mr. Bumble?'
'Not a drop. Nor a drop,' said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand
in a dignified, but placid manner.
'I think you will,' said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of
the refusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it. 'Just a
leetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.'
Mr. Bumble coughed.
'Now, just a leetle drop,' said Mrs. Mann persuasively.
'What is it?' inquired the beadle.
'Why, it's what I'm obliged to keep a little of in the house, to
put into the blessed infants' Daffy, when they ain't well, Mr.
Bumble,' replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and
took down a bottle and glass. 'It's gin. I'll not deceive you,
Mr. B. It's gin.'
'Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?' inquired Bumble,
following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing.
'Ah, bless 'em, that I do, dear as it is,' replied the nurse. 'I
couldn't see 'em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.'
'No'; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; 'no, you could not. You are a
humane woman, Mrs. Mann.' (Here she set down the glass.) 'I
shall take a early opportunity of mentioning it to the board,
Mrs. Mann.' (He drew it towards him.) 'You feel as a mother,
Mrs. Mann.' (He stirred the gin-and-water.) 'I--I drink your
health with cheerfulness, Mrs. Mann'; and he swallowed half of
'And now about business,' said the beadle, taking out a leathern
pocket-book. 'The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, is
nine year old to-day.'
'Bless him!' interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with
the corner of her apron.
'And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was
afterwards increased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most
superlative, and, I may say, supernat'ral exertions on the part
of this parish,' said Bumble, 'we have never been able to
discover who is his father, or what was his mother's settlement,
name, or con--dition.'
Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a
moment's reflection, 'How comes he to have any name at all,
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'I
'You, Mr. Bumble!'
'I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The
last was a S,--Swubble, I named him. This was a T,--Twist, I
named _him_. The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next
Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet,
and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.'
'Why, you're quite a literary character, sir!' said Mrs. Mann.
'Well, well,' said the beadle, evidently gratified with the
compliment; 'perhaps I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.' He
finished the gin-and-water, and added, 'Oliver being now too old
to remain here, the board have determined to have him back into
the house. I have come out myself to take him there. So let me
see him at once.'
'I'll fetch him directly,' said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room for
that purpose. Oliver, having had by this time as much of the
outer coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed,
as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by
his benevolent protectress.
'Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,' said Mrs. Mann.
Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on the
chair, and the cocked hat on the table.
'Will you go along with me, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble, in a
Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with
great readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs.
Mann, who had got behind the beadle's chair, and was shaking her
fist at him with a furious countenance. He took the hint at
once, for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body not
to be deeply impressed upon his recollection.
'Will she go with me?' inquired poor Oliver.
'No, she can't,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'But she'll come and see
This was no very great consolation to the child. Young as he
was, however, he had sense enough to make a feint of feeling
great regret at going away. It was no very difficult matter for
the boy to call tears into his eyes. Hunger and recent ill-usage
are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very
naturally indeed. Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and
what Oliver wanted a great deal more, a piece of bread and
butter, less he should seem too hungry when he got to the
workhouse. With the slice of bread in his hand, and the little
brown-cloth parish cap on his head, Oliver was then led away by
Mr. Bumble from the wretched home where one kind word or look had
never lighted the gloom of his infant years. And yet he burst
into an agony of childish grief, as the cottage-gate closed after
him. Wretched as were the little companions in misery he was
leaving behind, they were the only friends he had ever known; and
a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world, sank into the
child's heart for the first time.
Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmly
grasping his gold-laced cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring at
the end of every quarter of a mile whether they were 'nearly
there.' To these interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very brief
and snappish replies; for the temporary blandness which
gin-and-water awakens in some bosoms had by this time evaporated;
and he was once again a beadle.
Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarter
of an hour, and had scarcely completed the demolition of a second
slice of bread, when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to the
care of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it was a board
night, informed him that the board had said he was to appear
before it forthwith.
Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board
was, Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was
not quite certain whether he ought to laugh or cry. He had no
time to think about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble gave him
a tap on the head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another on
the back to make him lively: and bidding him to follow,
conducted him into a large white-washed room, where eight or ten
fat gentlemen were sitting round a table. At the top of the
table, seated in an arm-chair rather higher than the rest, was a
particularly fat gentleman with a very round, red face.
'Bow to the board,' said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two or
three tears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board
but the table, fortunately bowed to that.
'What's your name, boy?' said the gentleman in the high chair.
Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which
made him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind,
which made him cry. These two causes made him answer in a very
low and hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a white
waistcoat said he was a fool. Which was a capital way of raising
his spirits, and putting him quite at his ease.
'Boy,' said the gentleman in the high chair, 'listen to me. You
know you're an orphan, I suppose?'
'What's that, sir?' inquired poor Oliver.
'The boy _is_ a fool--I thought he was,' said the gentleman in the
'Hush!' said the gentleman who had spoken first. 'You know
you've got no father or mother, and that you were brought up by
the parish, don't you?'
'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.
'What are you crying for?' inquired the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. And to be sure it was very extraordinary. What _could_
the boy be crying for?
'I hope you say your prayers every night,' said another gentleman
in a gruff voice; 'and pray for the people who feed you, and take
care of you--like a Christian.'
'Yes, sir,' stammered the boy. The gentleman who spoke last was
unconsciously right. It would have been very like a Christian,
and a marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for
the people who fed and took care of _him_. But he hadn't, because
nobody had taught him.
'Well! You have come here to be educated, and taught a useful
trade,' said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair.
'So you'll begin to pick oakum to-morrow morning at six o'clock,'
added the surly one in the white waistcoat.
For the combination of both these blessings in the one simple
process of picking oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction of
the beadle, and was then hurried away to a large ward; where, on
a rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep. What a novel
illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers
go to sleep!
Poor Oliver! He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happy
unconsciousness of all around him, that the board had that very
day arrived at a decision which would exercise the most material
influence over all his future fortunes. But they had. And this
The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical
men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse,
they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have
discovered--the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of
public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there
was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper
all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all
play and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing;
'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in
no time.' So, they established the rule, that all poor people
should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not
they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by
a quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with the
water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a
corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal;
and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a
week, and half a roll of Sundays. They made a great many other
wise and humane regulations, having reference to the ladies,
which it is not necessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce
poor married people, in consequence of the great expense of a
suit in Doctors' Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to
support his family, as they had theretofore done, took his family
away from him, and made him a bachelor! There is no saying how
many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, might
have started up in all classes of society, if it had not been
coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men,
and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was inseparable
from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened people.
For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the
system was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first,
in consequence of the increase in the undertaker's bill, and the
necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which
fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week
or two's gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as
well as the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies.
The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with
a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an
apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled
the gruel at mealtimes. 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 (which never took very long, the spoons being
nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the
copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the
very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves,
meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, 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 with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and
hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a
small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he
had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some
night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to
be a weakly youth of tender age. 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 after supper that evening, and
ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in
his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper
assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served
out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel
disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;
while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was
desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from
the table; 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 stupefied 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 arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed
into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman
in the high chair, said,
'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every
'For _more_!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, and
answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more,
after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?'
'He did, sir,' replied Bumble.
'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. 'I know that boy will be hung.'
Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion. 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 anybody 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.
'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said the
gentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and
read the bill next morning: 'I never was more convinced of
anything in my life, than I am that that boy will come to be
As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoated
gentleman was right or not, I should perhaps mar the interest of
this narrative (supposing it to possess any at all), if I
ventured to hint just yet, whether the life of Oliver Twist had
this violent termination or no.
RELATES HOW OLIVER TWIST WAS VERY NEAR GETTING A PLACE WHICH
WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A SINECURE
For a week after the commission of the impious and profane
offence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in
the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the
wisdom and mercy of the board. It appears, at first sight not
unreasonable to suppose, that, if he had entertained a becoming
feeling of respect for the prediction of the gentleman in the
white waistcoat, he would have established that sage individual's
prophetic character, once and for ever, by tying one end of his
pocket-handkerchief to a hook in the wall, and attaching himself
to the other. To the performance of this feat, however, there
was one obstacle: namely, that pocket-handkerchiefs being
decided articles of luxury, had been, for all future times and
ages, removed from the noses of paupers by the express order of
the board, in council assembled: solemnly given and pronounced
under their hands and seals. There was a still greater obstacle
in Oliver's youth and childishness. He only cried bitterly all
day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread his little
hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in
the corner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start
and tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall,
as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the
gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.
Let it not be supposed by the enemies of 'the system,' that,
during the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was
denied the benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the
advantages of religious consolation. As for exercise, it was
nice cold weather, and he was allowed to perform his ablutions
every morning under the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of
Mr. Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a
tingling sensation to pervade his frame, by repeated applications
of the cane. As for society, he was carried every other day into
the hall where the boys dined, and there sociably flogged as a
public warning and example. And so for from being denied the
advantages of religious consolation, he was kicked into the same
apartment every evening at prayer-time, and there permitted to
listen to, and console his mind with, a general supplication of
the boys, containing a special clause, therein inserted by
authority of the board, in which they entreated to be made good,
virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from the
sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly
set forth to be under the exclusive patronage and protection of
the powers of wickedness, and an article direct from the
manufactory of the very Devil himself.
It chanced one morning, while Oliver's affairs were in this
auspicious and comfortable state, that Mr. Gamfield,
chimney-sweep, went his way down the High Street, deeply
cogitating in his mind his ways and means of paying certain
arrears of rent, for which his landlord had become rather
pressing. Mr. Gamfield's most sanguine estimate of his finances
could not raise them within full five pounds of the desired
amount; and, in a species of arthimetical desperation, he was
alternately cudgelling his brains and his donkey, when passing
the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate.
'Wo--o!' said Mr. Gamfield to the donkey.
The donkey was in a state of profound abstraction: wondering,
probably, whether he was destined to be regaled with a
cabbage-stalk or two when he had disposed of the two sacks of
soot with which the little cart was laden; so, without noticing
the word of command, he jogged onward.
Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkey
generally, but more particularly on his eyes; and, running after
him, bestowed a blow on his head, which would inevitably have
beaten in any skull but a donkey's. Then, catching hold of the
bridle, he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminder
that he was not his own master; and by these means turned him
round. He then gave him another blow on the head, just to stun
him till he came back again. Having completed these
arrangements, he walked up to the gate, to read the bill.
The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gate
with his hands behind him, after having delivered himself of some
profound sentiments in the board-room. Having witnessed the
little dispute between Mr. Gamfield and the donkey, he smiled
joyously when that person came up to read the bill, for he saw at
once that Mr. Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver
Twist wanted. Mr. Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the
document; for five pounds was just the sum he had been wishing
for; and, as to the boy with which it was encumbered, Mr.
Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of the workhouse was, well
knew he would be a nice small pattern, just the very thing for
register stoves. So, he spelt the bill through again, from
beginning to end; and then, touching his fur cap in token of
humility, accosted the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
'This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to 'prentis,' said Mr.
'Ay, my man,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with a
condescending smile. 'What of him?'
'If the parish vould like him to learn a right pleasant trade, in
a good 'spectable chimbley-sweepin' bisness,' said Mr. Gamfield,
'I wants a 'prentis, and I am ready to take him.'
'Walk in,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr.
Gamfield having lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow
on the head, and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to
run away in his absence, followed the gentleman with the white
waistcoat into the room where Oliver had first seen him.
'It's a nasty trade,' said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had again
stated his wish.
'Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,' said
'That's acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in the
chimbley to make 'em come down again,' said Gamfield; 'that's all
smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain't o' no use at all in
making a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and
that's wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy,
Gen'l'men, and there's nothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em
come down vith a run. It's humane too, gen'l'men, acause, even
if they've stuck in the chimbley, roasting their feet makes 'em
struggle to hextricate theirselves.'
The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by
this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look
from Mr. Limbkins. The board then proceeded to converse among
themselves for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the
words 'saving of expenditure,' 'looked well in the accounts,'
'have a printed report published,' were alone audible. These
only chanced to be heard, indeed, or account of their being very
frequently repeated with great emphasis.
At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board,
having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins
'We have considered your proposition, and we don't approve of
'Not at all,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.
'Decidedly not,' added the other members.
As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation
of having bruised three or four boys to death already, it
occurred to him that the board had, perhaps, in some
unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that this
extraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings. It
was very unlike their general mode of doing business, if they
had; but still, as he had no particular wish to revive the
rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, and walked slowly from
'So you won't let me have him, gen'l'men?' said Mr. Gamfield,
pausing near the door.
'No,' replied Mr. Limbkins; 'at least, as it's a nasty business,
we think you ought to take something less than the premium we
Mr. Gamfield's countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he
returned to the table, and said,
'What'll you give, gen'l'men? Come! Don't be too hard on a poor
man. What'll you give?'
'I should say, three pound ten was plenty,' said Mr. Limbkins.
'Ten shillings too much,' said the gentleman in the white
'Come!' said Gamfield; 'say four pound, gen'l'men. Say four
pound, and you've got rid of him for good and all. There!'
'Three pound ten,' repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.
'Come! I'll split the diff'erence, gen'l'men,' urged Gamfield.
'Three pound fifteen.'
'Not a farthing more,' was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.
'You're desperate hard upon me, gen'l'men,' said Gamfield,
'Pooh! pooh! nonsense!' said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. 'He'd be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium.
Take him, you silly fellow! He's just the boy for you. He wants
the stick, now and then: it'll do him good; and his board
needn't come very expensive, for he hasn't been overfed since he
was born. Ha! ha! ha!'
Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table, and,
observing a smile on all of them, gradually broke into a smile
himself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once
instructed that Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be
conveyed before the magistrate, for signature and approval, that
In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his
excessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to
put himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very
unusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, with
his own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two
ounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliver
began to cry very piteously: thinking, not unnaturally, that the
board must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose,
or they never would have begun to fatten him up in that way.
'Don't make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and be
thankful,' said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity.
'You're a going to be made a 'prentice of, Oliver.'
'A prentice, sir!' said the child, trembling.
'Yes, Oliver,' said Mr. Bumble. 'The kind and blessed gentleman
which is so many parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of
your own: are a going to 'prentice' you: and to set you up in
life, and make a man of you: although the expense to the parish
is three pound ten!--three pound ten, Oliver!--seventy
shillins--one hundred and forty sixpences!--and all for a naughty
orphan which nobody can't love.'
As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this
address in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child's
face, and he sobbed bitterly.
'Come,' said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it was
gratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence
had produced; 'Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of
your jacket, and don't cry into your gruel; that's a very foolish
action, Oliver.' It certainly was, for there was quite enough
water in it already.
On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that
all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say,
when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, that
he should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions
Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a
gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no
telling what would be done to him. When they arrived at the
office, he was shut up in a little room by himself, and
admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay there, until he came back to
There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an
hour. At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his
head, unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:
'Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.' As Mr. Bumble
said this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a
low voice, 'Mind what I told you, you young rascal!'
Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble's face at this somewhat
contradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his
offering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into an
adjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room,
with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with
powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while the
other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell
spectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr.
Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side; and Mr.
Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two
or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.
The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over
the little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, after
Oliver had been stationed by Mr. Bumble in front of the desk.
'This is the boy, your worship,' said Mr. Bumble.
The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his head
for a moment, and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve;
whereupon, the last-mentioned old gentleman woke up.
'Oh, is this the boy?' said the old gentleman.
'This is him, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Bow to the magistrate,
Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been
wondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates' powder,
whether all boards were born with that white stuff on their
heads, and were boards from thenceforth on that account.
'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I suppose he's fond of
'He doats on it, your worship,' replied Bumble; giving Oliver a
sly pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn't.
'And he _will_ be a sweep, will he?' inquired the old gentleman.
'If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he'd run
away simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.
'And this man that's to be his master--you, sir--you'll treat him
well, and feed him, and do all that sort of thing, will you?'
said the old gentleman.
'When I says I will, I means I will,' replied Mr. Gamfield
'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
'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
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
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.
OLIVER, BEING OFFERED ANOTHER PLACE, MAKES HIS FIRST ENTRY INTO
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
'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
'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
'Let 'em alone for that,' replied the undertaker. So saying, he
smiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignant
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 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 putup 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
Mrs. Sowerberry emerged from a little room behind the shop, and
presented the form of a short, then, squeezed-up woman, with a
'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
'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
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
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
'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.
OLIVER MINGLES WITH NEW ASSOCIATES. GOING TO A FUNERAL FOR THE
FIRST TIME, HE FORMS AN UNFAVOURABLE NOTION OF HIS MASTER'S
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
'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
'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 bit of bacon for you from master's breakfast. Oliver,
shut that door at Mister Noah's back, and take them bits that
I've put out on the cover of the bread-pan. There's your tea;
take it away to that box, and drink it there, and make haste, for
they'll want you to mind the shop. D'ye hear?'
'D'ye hear, Work'us?' said Noah Claypole.
'Lor, Noah!' said Charlotte, 'what a rum creature you are! Why
don't you let the boy alone?'
'Let him alone!' said Noah. 'Why everybody lets him alone
enough, for the matter of that. Neither his father nor his
mother will ever interfere with him. All his relations let him
have his own way pretty well. Eh, Charlotte? He! he! he!'
'Oh, you queer soul!' said Charlotte, bursting into a hearty
laugh, in which she was joined by Noah; after which they both
looked scornfully at poor Oliver Twist, as he sat shivering on
the box in the coldest corner of the room, and ate the stale
pieces which had been specially reserved for him.
Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No
chance-child was he, for he could trace his genealogy all the way
back to his parents, who lived hard by; his mother being a
washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier, discharged with a
wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny and an
unstateable fraction. The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had
long been in the habit of branding Noah in the public streets,
with the ignominious epithets of 'leathers,' 'charity,' and the
like; and Noah had bourne them without reply. But, now that
fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the
meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with
interest. This affords charming food for contemplation. It
shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be;
and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in
the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy.
Oliver had been sojourning at the undertaker's some three weeks
or a month. Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry--the shop being shut
up--were taking their supper in the little back-parlour, when Mr.
Sowerberry, after several deferential glances at his wife, said,
'My dear--' He was going to say more; but, Mrs. Sowerberry
looking up, with a peculiarly unpropitious aspect, he stopped
'Well,' said Mrs. Sowerberry, sharply.
'Nothing, my dear, nothing,' said Mr. Sowerberry.
'Ugh, you brute!' said Mrs. Sowerberry.
'Not at all, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry humbly. 'I thought
you didn't want to hear, my dear. I was only going to say--'
'Oh, don't tell me what you were going to say,' interposed Mrs.
Sowerberry. 'I am nobody; don't consult me, pray. _I_ don't
want to intrude upon your secrets.' As Mrs. Sowerberry said
this, she gave an hysterical laugh, which threatened violent
'But, my dear,' said Sowerberry, 'I want to ask your advice.'
'No, no, don't ask mine,' replied Mrs. Sowerberry, in an
affecting manner: 'ask somebody else's.' Here, there was
another hysterical laugh, which frightened Mr. Sowerberry very
much. This is a very common and much-approved matrimonial course
of treatment, which is often very effective. It at once reduced
Mr. Sowerberry to begging, as a special favour, to be allowed to
say what Mrs. Sowerberry was most curious to hear. After a short
duration, the permission was most graciously conceded.
'It's only about young Twist, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry. 'A
very good-looking boy, that, my dear.'
'He need be, for he eats enough,' observed the lady.
'There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear,'
resumed Mr. Sowerberry, 'which is very interesting. He would
make a delightful mute, my love.'
Mrs. Sowerberry looked up with an expression of considerable
wonderment. Mr. Sowerberry remarked it and, without allowing
time for any observation on the good lady's part, proceeded.
'I don't mean a regular mute to attend grown-up people, my dear,
but only for children's practice. It would be very new to have a
mute in proportion, my dear. You may depend upon it, it would
have a superb effect.'
Mrs. Sowerberry, who had a good deal of taste in the undertaking
way, was much struck by the novelty of this idea; but, as it
would have been compromising her dignity to have said so, under
existing circumstances, she merely inquired, with much sharpness,
why such an obvious suggestion had not presented itself to her
husband's mind before? Mr. Sowerberry rightly construed this, as
an acquiescence in his proposition; it was speedily determined,
therefore, that Oliver should be at once initiated into the
mysteries of the trade; and, with this view, that he should
accompany his master on the very next occasion of his services
The occasion was not long in coming. Half an hour after
breakfast next morning, Mr. Bumble entered the shop; and
supporting his cane against the counter, drew forth his large
leathern pocket-book: from which he selected a small scrap of
paper, which he handed over to Sowerberry.
'Aha!' said the undertaker, glancing over it with a lively
countenance; 'an order for a coffin, eh?'
'For a coffin first, and a porochial funeral afterwards,' replied
Mr. Bumble, fastening the strap of the leathern pocket-book:
which, like himself, was very corpulent.
'Bayton,' said the undertaker, looking from the scrap of paper to
Mr. Bumble. 'I never heard the name before.'
Bumble shook his head, as he replied, 'Obstinate people, Mr.
Sowerberry; very obstinate. Proud, too, I'm afraid, sir.'
'Proud, eh?' exclaimed Mr. Sowerberry with a sneer. 'Come,
that's too much.'
'Oh, it's sickening,' replied the beadle. 'Antimonial, Mr.
'So it is,' asquiesced the undertaker.
'We only heard of the family the night before last,' said the
beadle; 'and we shouldn't have known anything about them, then,
only a woman who lodges in the same house made an application to
the porochial committee for them to send the porochial surgeon to
see a woman as was very bad. He had gone out to dinner; but his
'prentice (which is a very clever lad) sent 'em some medicine in
a blacking-bottle, offhand.'
'Ah, there's promptness,' said the undertaker.
'Promptness, indeed!' replied the beadle. 'But what's the
consequence; what's the ungrateful behaviour of these rebels,
sir? Why, the husband sends back word that the medicine won't
suit his wife's complaint, and so she shan't take it--says she
shan't take it, sir! Good, strong, wholesome medicine, as was
given with great success to two Irish labourers and a
coal-heaver, only a week before--sent 'em for nothing, with a
blackin'-bottle in,--and he sends back word that she shan't take
As the atrocity presented itself to Mr. Bumble's mind in full
force, he struck the counter sharply with his cane, and became
flushed with indignation.
'Well,' said the undertaker, 'I ne--ver--did--'
'Never did, sir!' ejaculated the beadle. 'No, nor nobody never
did; but now she's dead, we've got to bury her; and that's the
direction; and the sooner it's done, the better.'
Thus saying, Mr. Bumble put on his cocked hat wrong side first,
in a fever of parochial excitement; and flounced out of the shop.
'Why, he was so angry, Oliver, that he forgot even to ask after
you!' said Mr. Sowerberry, looking after the beadle as he strode
down the street.
'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, who had carefully kept himself out of
sight, during the interview; and who was shaking from head to
foot at the mere recollection of the sound of Mr. Bumble's voice.
He needn't haven taken the trouble to shrink from Mr. Bumble's
glance, however; for that functionary, on whom the prediction of
the gentleman in the white waistcoat had made a very strong
impression, thought that now the undertaker had got Oliver upon
trial the subject was better avoided, until such time as he
should be firmly bound for seven years, and all danger of his
being returned upon the hands of the parish should be thus
effectually and legally overcome.
'Well,' said Mr. Sowerberry, taking up his hat, 'the sooner this
job is done, the better. Noah, look after the shop. Oliver, put
on your cap, and come with me.' Oliver obeyed, and followed his
master on his professional mission.
They walked on, for some time, through the most crowded and
densely inhabited part of the town; and then, striking down a
narrow street more dirty and miserable than any they had yet
passed through, paused to look for the house which was the object
of their search. The houses on either side were high and large,
but very old, and tenanted by people of the poorest class: as
their neglected appearance would have sufficiently denoted,
without the concurrent testimony afforded by the squalid looks of
the few men and women who, with folded arms and bodies half
doubled, occasionally skulked along. A great many of the
tenements had shop-fronts; but these were fast closed, and
mouldering away; only the upper rooms being inhabited. Some
houses which had become insecure from age and decay, were
prevented from falling into the street, by huge beams of wood
reared against the walls, and firmly planted in the road; but
even these crazy dens seemed to have been selected as the nightly
haunts of some houseless wretches, for many of the rough boards
which supplied the place of door and window, were wrenched from
their positions, to afford an aperture wide enough for the
passage of a human body. The kennel was stagnant and filthy.
The very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in its
rottenness, were hideous with famine.
There was neither knocker nor bell-handle at the open door where
Oliver and his master stopped; so, groping his way cautiously
through the dark passage, and bidding Oliver keep close to him
and not be afraid the undertaker mounted to the top of the first
flight of stairs. Stumbling against a door on the landing, he
rapped at it with his knuckles.
It was opened by a young girl of thirteen or fourteen. The
undertaker at once saw enough of what the room contained, to know
it was the apartment to which he had been directed. He stepped
in; Oliver followed him.
There was no fire in the room; but a man was crouching,
mechanically, over the empty stove. An old woman, too, had drawn
a low stool to the cold hearth, and was sitting beside him.
There were some ragged children in another corner; and in a small
recess, opposite the door, there lay upon the ground, something
covered with an old blanket. Oliver shuddered as he cast his
eyes toward the place, and crept involuntarily closer to his
master; for though it was covered up, the boy felt that it was a
The man's face was thin and very pale; his hair and beard were
grizzly; his eyes were bloodshot. The old woman's face was
wrinkled; her two remaining teeth protruded over her under lip;
and her eyes were bright and piercing. Oliver was afraid to look
at either her or the man. They seemed so like the rats he had
'Nobody shall go near her,' said the man, starting fiercely up,
as the undertaker approached the recess. 'Keep back! Damn you,
keep back, if you've a life to lose!'
'Nonsense, my good man,' said the undertaker, who was pretty well
used to misery in all its shapes. 'Nonsense!'
'I tell you,' said the man: clenching his hands, and stamping
furiously on the floor,--'I tell you I won't have her put into
the ground. She couldn't rest there. The worms would worry
her--not eat her--she is so worn away.'
The undertaker offered no reply to this raving; but producing a
tape from his pocket, knelt down for a moment by the side of the
'Ah!' said the man: bursting into tears, and sinking on his
knees at the feet of the dead woman; 'kneel down, kneel down
--kneel round her, every one of you, and mark my words! I say
she was starved to death. I never knew how bad she was, till the
fever came upon her; and then her bones were starting through the
skin. There was neither fire nor candle; she died in the
dark--in the dark! She couldn't even see her children's faces,
though we heard her gasping out their names. I begged for her in
the streets: and they sent me to prison. When I came back, she
was dying; and all the blood in my heart has dried up, for they
starved her to death. I swear it before the God that saw it!
They starved her!' He twined his hands in his hair; and, with a
loud scream, rolled grovelling upon the floor: his eyes fixed,
and the foam covering his lips.
The terrified children cried bitterly; but the old woman, who had
hitherto remained as quiet as if she had been wholly deaf to all
that passed, menaced them into silence. Having unloosened the
cravat of the man who still remained extended on the ground, she
tottered towards the undertaker.
'She was my daughter,' said the old woman, nodding her head in
the direction of the corpse; and speaking with an idiotic leer,
more ghastly than even the presence of death in such a place.
'Lord, Lord! Well, it _is_ strange that I who gave birth to her,
and was a woman then, should be alive and merry now, and she
lying there: so cold and stiff! Lord, Lord!--to think of it;
it's as good as a play--as good as a play!'
As the wretched creature mumbled and chuckled in her hideous
merriment, the undertaker turned to go away.
'Stop, stop!' said the old woman in a loud whisper. 'Will she be
buried to-morrow, or next day, or to-night? I laid her out; and
I must walk, you know. Send me a large cloak: a good warm one:
for it is bitter cold. We should have cake and wine, too, before
we go! Never mind; send some bread--only a loaf of bread and a
cup of water. Shall we have some bread, dear?' she said eagerly:
catching at the undertaker's coat, as he once more moved towards
'Yes, yes,' said the undertaker,'of course. Anything you like!'
He disengaged himself from the old woman's grasp; and, drawing
Oliver after him, hurried away.
The next day, (the family having been meanwhile relieved with a
half-quartern loaf and a piece of cheese, left with them by Mr.
Bumble himself,) Oliver and his master returned to the miserable
abode; where Mr. Bumble had already arrived, accompanied by four
men from the workhouse, who were to act as bearers. An old black
cloak had been thrown over the rags of the old woman and the man;
and the bare coffin having been screwed down, was hoisted on the
shoulders of the bearers, and carried into the street.
'Now, you must put your best leg foremost, old lady!' whispered
Sowerberry in the old woman's ear; 'we are rather late; and it
won't do, to keep the clergyman waiting. Move on, my men,--as
quick as you like!'
Thus directed, the bearers trotted on under their light burden;
and the two mourners kept as near them, as they could. Mr.
Bumble and Sowerberry walked at a good smart pace in front; and
Oliver, whose legs were not so long as his master's, ran by the
There was not so great a necessity for hurrying as Mr. Sowerberry
had anticipated, however; for when they reached the obscure
corner of the churchyard in which the nettles grew, and where the
parish graves were made, the clergyman had not arrived; and the
clerk, who was sitting by the vestry-room fire, seemed to think
it by no means improbable that it might be an hour or so, before
he came. So, they put the bier on the brink of the grave; and
the two mourners waited patiently in the damp clay, with a cold
rain drizzling down, while the ragged boys whom the spectacle had
attracted into the churchyard played a noisy game at
hide-and-seek among the tombstones, or varied their amusements by
jumping backwards and forwards over the coffin. Mr. Sowerberry
and Bumble, being personal friends of the clerk, sat by the fire
with him, and read the paper.
At length, after a lapse of something more than an hour, Mr.
Bumble, and Sowerberry, and the clerk, were seen running towards
the grave. Immediately afterwards, the clergyman appeared:
putting on his surplice as he came along. Mr. Bumble then
thrashed a boy or two, to keep up appearances; and the reverend
gentleman, having read as much of the burial service as could be
compressed into four minutes, gave his surplice to the clerk, and
walked away again.
'Now, Bill!' said Sowerberry to the grave-digger. 'Fill up!'
It was no very difficult task, for the grave was so full, that
the uppermost coffin was within a few feet of the surface. The
grave-digger shovelled in the earth; stamped it loosely down with
his feet: shouldered his spade; and walked off, followed by the
boys, who murmured very loud complaints at the fun being over so
'Come, my good fellow!' said Bumble, tapping the man on the back.
'They want to shut up the yard.'
The man who had never once moved, since he had taken his station
by the grave side, started, raised his head, stared at the person
who had addressed him, walked forward for a few paces; and fell
down in a swoon. The crazy old woman was too much occupied in
bewailing the loss of her cloak (which the undertaker had taken
off), to pay him any attention; so they threw a can of cold water
over him; and when he came to, saw him safely out of the
churchyard, locked the gate, and departed on their different
'Well, Oliver,' said Sowerberry, as they walked home, 'how do you
'Pretty well, thank you, sir' replied Oliver, with considerable
hesitation. 'Not very much, sir.'
'Ah, you'll get used to it in time, Oliver,' said Sowerberry.
'Nothing when you _are_ used to it, my boy.'
Oliver wondered, in his own mind, whether it had taken a very
long time to get Mr. Sowerberry used to it. But he thought it
better not to ask the question; and walked back to the shop:
thinking over all he had seen and heard.
OLIVER, BEING GOADED BY THE TAUNTS OF NOAH, ROUSES INTO ACTION,
AND RATHER ASTONISHES HIM
The month's trial over, Oliver was formally apprenticed. It was
a nice sickly season just at this time. In commercial phrase,
coffins were looking up; and, in the course of a few weeks,
Oliver acquired a great deal of experience. The success of Mr.
Sowerberry's ingenious speculation, exceeded even his most
sanguine hopes. The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at
which measles had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant
existence; and many were the mournful processions which little
Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching down to his knees, to the
indescribable admiration and emotion of all the mothers in the
town. As Oliver accompanied his master in most of his adult
expeditions too, in order that he might acquire that equanimity
of demeanour and full command of nerve which was essential to a
finished undertaker, he had many opportunities of observing the
beautiful resignation and fortitude with which some strong-minded
people bear their trials and losses.
For instance; when Sowerberry had an order for the burial of some
rich old lady or gentleman, who was surrounded by a great number
of nephews and nieces, who had been perfectly inconsolable during
the previous illness, and whose grief had been wholly
irrepressible even on the most public occasions, they would be as
happy among themselves as need be--quite cheerful and
contented--conversing together with as much freedom and gaiety,
as if nothing whatever had happened to disturb them. Husbands,
too, bore the loss of their wives with the most heroic calmness.
Wives, again, put on weeds for their husbands, as if, so far from
grieving in the garb of sorrow, they had made up their minds to
render it as becoming and attractive as possible. It was
observable, too, that ladies and gentlemen who were in passions
of anguish during the ceremony of interment, recovered almost as
soon as they reached home, and became quite composed before the
tea-drinking was over. All this was very pleasant and improving
to see; and Oliver beheld it with great admiration.
That Oliver Twist was moved to resignation by the example of
these good people, I cannot, although I am his biographer,
undertake to affirm with any degree of confidence; but I can most
distinctly say, that for many months he continued meekly to
submit to the domination and ill-treatment of Noah Claypole: who
used him far worse than before, now that his jealousy was roused
by seeing the new boy promoted to the black stick and hatband,
while he, the old one, remained stationary in the muffin-cap and
leathers. Charlotte treated him ill, because Noah did; and Mrs.
Sowerberry was his decided enemy, because Mr. Sowerberry was
disposed to be his friend; so, between these three on one side,
and a glut of funerals on the other, Oliver was not altogether as
comfortable as the hungry pig was, when he was shut up, by
mistake, in the grain department of a brewery.
And now, I come to a very important passage in Oliver's history;
for I have to record an act, slight and unimportant perhaps in
appearance, but which indirectly produced a material change in
all his future prospects and proceedings.
One day, Oliver and Noah had descended into the kitchen at the
usual dinner-hour, to banquet upon a small joint of mutton--a
pound and a half of the worst end of the neck--when Charlotte
being called out of the way, there ensued a brief interval of
time, which Noah Claypole, being hungry and vicious, considered
he could not possibly devote to a worthier purpose than
aggravating and tantalising young Oliver Twist.
Intent upon this innocent amusement, Noah put his feet on the
table-cloth; and pulled Oliver's hair; and twitched his ears; and
expressed his opinion that he was a 'sneak'; and furthermore
announced his intention of coming to see him hanged, whenever
that desirable event should take place; and entered upon various
topics of petty annoyance, like a malicious and ill-conditioned
charity-boy as he was. But, making Oliver cry, Noah attempted to
be more facetious still; and in his attempt, did what many
sometimes do to this day, when they want to be funny. He got
'Work'us,' said Noah, 'how's your mother?'
'She's dead,' replied Oliver; 'don't you say anything about her
Oliver's colour rose as he said this; he breathed quickly; and
there was a curious working of the mouth and nostrils, which Mr.
Claypole thought must be the immediate precursor of a violent fit
of crying. Under this impression he returned to the charge.
'What did she die of, Work'us?' said Noah.
'Of a broken heart, some of our old nurses told me,' replied
Oliver: more as if he were talking to himself, than answering
Noah. 'I think I know what it must be to die of that!'
'Tol de rol lol lol, right fol lairy, Work'us,' said Noah, as a
tear rolled down Oliver's cheek. 'What's set you a snivelling
'Not _you_,' replied Oliver, sharply. 'There; that's enough. Don't
say anything more to me about her; you'd better not!'
'Better not!' exclaimed Noah. 'Well! Better not! Work'us,
don't be impudent. _Your_ mother, too! She was a nice 'un she
was. Oh, Lor!' And here, Noah nodded his head expressively; and
curled up as much of his small red nose as muscular action could
collect together, for the occasion.
'Yer know, Work'us,' continued Noah, emboldened by Oliver's
silence, and speaking in a jeering tone of affected pity: of all
tones the most annoying: 'Yer know, Work'us, it can't be helped
now; and of course yer couldn't help it then; and I am very sorry
for it; and I'm sure we all are, and pity yer very much. But yer
must know, Work'us, yer mother was a regular right-down bad 'un.'
'What did you say?' inquired Oliver, looking up very quickly.
'A regular right-down bad 'un, Work'us,' replied Noah, coolly.
'And it's a great deal better, Work'us, that she died when she
did, or else she'd have been hard labouring in Bridewell, or
transported, or hung; which is more likely than either, isn't
Crimson with fury, Oliver started up; overthrew the chair and
table; seized Noah by the throat; shook him, in the violence of
his rage, till his teeth chattered in his head; and collecting
his whole force into one heavy blow, felled him to the ground.
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!
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