Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Download 1.8 Mb.
Size1.8 Mb.
1   ...   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   ...   34
Corney, with great propriety, turned her head away, and released
her hand to get at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly
replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.

'The board allows you coals, don't they, Mrs. Corney?' inquired

the beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.

'And candles,' replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the


'Coals, candles, and house-rent free,' said Mr. Bumble. 'Oh,

Mrs. Corney, what an Angel you are!'

The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank

into Mr. Bumble's arms; and that gentleman in his agitation,
imprinted a passionate kiss upon her chaste nose.

'Such porochial perfection!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously.

'You know that Mr. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?'

'Yes,' replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.

'He can't live a week, the doctor says,' pursued Mr. Bumble. 'He
is the master of this establishment; his death will cause a
wacancy; that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a
prospect this opens! What a opportunity for a jining of hearts
and housekeepings!'

Mrs. Corney sobbed.

'The little word?' said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful
beauty. 'The one little, little, little word, my blessed

'Ye--ye--yes!' sighed out the matron.

'One more,' pursued the beadle; 'compose your darling feelings
for only one more. When is it to come off?'

Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length

summoning up courage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble's
neck, and said, it might be as soon as ever he pleased, and that
he was 'a irresistible duck.'

Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the

contract was solemnly ratified in another teacupful of the
peppermint mixture; which was rendered the more necessary, by the
flutter and agitation of the lady's spirits. While it was being
disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the old woman's

'Very good,' said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint; 'I'll

call at Sowerberry's as I go home, and tell him to send to-morrow
morning. Was it that as frightened you, love?'

'It wasn't anything particular, dear,' said the lady evasively.

'It must have been something, love,' urged Mr. Bumble. 'Won't you
tell your own B.?'

'Not now,' rejoined the lady; 'one of these days. After we're

married, dear.'

'After we're married!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble. 'It wasn't any

impudence from any of them male paupers as--'

'No, no, love!' interposed the lady, hastily.

'If I thought it was,' continued Mr. Bumble; 'if I thought as any
one of 'em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovely

'They wouldn't have dared to do it, love,' responded the lady.

'They had better not!' said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. 'Let
me see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to
do it; and I can tell him that he wouldn't do it a second time!'

Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have

seemed no very high compliment to the lady's charms; but, as Mr.
Bumble accompanied the threat with many warlike gestures, she was
much touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested, with
great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.

The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked

hat; and, having exchanged a long and affectionate embrace with
his future partner, once again braved the cold wind of the night:
merely pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers' ward, to
abuse them a little, with the view of satisfying himself that he
could fill the office of workhouse-master with needful acerbity.
Assured of his qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with
a light heart, and bright visions of his future promotion: which
served to occupy his mind until he reached the shop of the

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper:

and Noah Claypole not being at any time disposed to take upon
himself a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary
to a convenient performance of the two functions of eating and
drinking, the shop was not closed, although it was past the usual
hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the
counter several times; but, attracting no attention, and
beholding a light shining through the glass-window of the little
parlour at the back of the shop, he made bold to peep in and see
what was going forward; and when he saw what was going forward,
he was not a little surprised.

The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread

and butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle.
At the upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled
negligently in an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of
the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass of buttered
bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening
oysters from a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to
swallow, with remarkable avidity. A more than ordinary redness
in the region of the young gentleman's nose, and a kind of fixed
wink in his right eye, denoted that he was in a slight degree
intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish
with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong
appreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of internal
fever, could have sufficiently accounted.

'Here's a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!' said Charlotte; 'try

him, do; only this one.'

'What a delicious thing is a oyster!' remarked Mr. Claypole,

after he had swallowed it. 'What a pity it is, a number of 'em
should ever make you feel uncomfortable; isn't it, Charlotte?'

'It's quite a cruelty,' said Charlotte.

'So it is,' acquiesced Mr. Claypole. 'An't yer fond of oysters?'

'Not overmuch,' replied Charlotte. 'I like to see you eat 'em,

Noah dear, better than eating 'em myself.'

'Lor!' said Noah, reflectively; 'how queer!'

'Have another,' said Charlotte. 'Here's one with such a
beautiful, delicate beard!'

'I can't manage any more,' said Noah. 'I'm very sorry. Come

here, Charlotte, and I'll kiss yer.'

'What!' said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. 'Say that

again, sir.'

Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr.

Claypole, without making any further change in his position than
suffering his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in
drunken terror.

'Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!' said Mr. Bumble. 'How

dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage
him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in
strong indignation. 'Faugh!'

'I didn't mean to do it!' said Noah, blubbering. 'She's always

a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.'

'Oh, Noah,' cried Charlotte, reproachfully.

'Yer are; yer know yer are!' retorted Noah. 'She's always
a-doin' of it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin,
please, sir; and makes all manner of love!'

'Silence!' cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. 'Take yourself downstairs,

ma'am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till your
master comes home, at your peril; and, when he does come home,
tell him that Mr. Bumble said he was to send a old woman's shell
after breakfast to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!'
cried Mr. Bumble, holding up his hands. 'The sin and wickedness
of the lower orders in this porochial district is frightful! If
Parliament don't take their abominable courses under
consideration, this country's ruined, and the character of the
peasantry gone for ever!' With these words, the beadle strode,
with a lofty and gloomy air, from the undertaker's premises.

And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and

have made all necessary preparations for the old woman's funeral,
let us set on foot a few inquires after young Oliver Twist, and
ascertain whether he be still lying in the ditch where Toby
Crackit left him.



'Wolves tear your throats!' muttered Sikes, grinding his teeth.

'I wish I was among some of you; you'd howl the hoarser for it.'

As Sikes growled forth this imprecation, with the most desperate

ferocity that his desperate nature was capable of, he rested the
body of the wounded boy across his bended knee; and turned his
head, for an instant, to look back at his pursuers.

There was little to be made out, in the mist and darkness; but

the loud shouting of men vibrated through the air, and the
barking of the neighbouring dogs, roused by the sound of the
alarm bell, resounded in every direction.

'Stop, you white-livered hound!' cried the robber, shouting after

Toby Crackit, who, making the best use of his long legs, was
already ahead. 'Stop!'

The repetition of the word, brought Toby to a dead stand-still.

For he was not quite satisfied that he was beyond the range of
pistol-shot; and Sikes was in no mood to be played with.

'Bear a hand with the boy,' cried Sikes, beckoning furiously to

his confederate. 'Come back!'

Toby made a show of returning; but ventured, in a low voice,

broken for want of breath, to intimate considerable reluctance as
he came slowly along.

'Quicker!' cried Sikes, laying the boy in a dry ditch at his

feet, and drawing a pistol from his pocket. 'Don't play booty
with me.'

At this moment the noise grew louder. Sikes, again looking

round, could discern that the men who had given chase were
already climbing the gate of the field in which he stood; and
that a couple of dogs were some paces in advance of them.

'It's all up, Bill!' cried Toby; 'drop the kid, and show 'em your

heels.' With this parting advice, Mr. Crackit, preferring the
chance of being shot by his friend, to the certainty of being
taken by his enemies, fairly turned tail, and darted off at full
speed. Sikes clenched his teeth; took one look around; threw
over the prostrate form of Oliver, the cape in which he had been
hurriedly muffled; ran along the front of the hedge, as if to
distract the attention of those behind, from the spot where the
boy lay; paused, for a second, before another hedge which met it
at right angles; and whirling his pistol high into the air,
cleared it at a bound, and was gone.

'Ho, ho, there!' cried a tremulous voice in the rear. 'Pincher!

Neptune! Come here, come here!'

The dogs, who, in common with their masters, seemed to have no

particular relish for the sport in which they were engaged,
readily answered to the command. Three men, who had by this time
advanced some distance into the field, stopped to take counsel

'My advice, or, leastways, I should say, my ORDERS, is,' said the

fattest man of the party, 'that we 'mediately go home again.'

'I am agreeable to anything which is agreeable to Mr. Giles,'

said a shorter man; who was by no means of a slim figure, and who
was very pale in the face, and very polite: as frightened men
frequently are.

'I shouldn't wish to appear ill-mannered, gentlemen,' said the

third, who had called the dogs back, 'Mr. Giles ought to know.'

'Certainly,' replied the shorter man; 'and whatever Mr. Giles

says, it isn't our place to contradict him. No, no, I know my
sitiwation! Thank my stars, I know my sitiwation.' To tell the
truth, the little man DID seem to know his situation, and to know
perfectly well that it was by no means a desirable one; for his
teeth chattered in his head as he spoke.

'You are afraid, Brittles,' said Mr. Giles.

'I an't,' said Brittles.

'You are,' said Giles.

'You're a falsehood, Mr. Giles,' said Brittles.

'You're a lie, Brittles,' said Mr. Giles.

Now, these four retorts arose from Mr. Giles's taunt; and Mr.
Giles's taunt had arisen from his indignation at having the
responsibility of going home again, imposed upon himself under
cover of a compliment. The third man brought the dispute to a
close, most philosophically.

'I'll tell you what it is, gentlemen,' said he, 'we're all


'Speak for yourself, sir,' said Mr. Giles, who was the palest of

the party.

'So I do,' replied the man. 'It's natural and proper to be

afraid, under such circumstances. I am.'

'So am I,' said Brittles; 'only there's no call to tell a man he

is, so bounceably.'

These frank admissions softened Mr. Giles, who at once owned that

HE was afraid; upon which, they all three faced about, and ran
back again with the completest unanimity, until Mr. Giles (who
had the shortest wind of the party, as was encumbered with a
pitchfork) most handsomely insisted on stopping, to make an
apology for his hastiness of speech.

'But it's wonderful,' said Mr. Giles, when he had explained,

'what a man will do, when his blood is up. I should have
committed murder--I know I should--if we'd caught one of them

As the other two were impressed with a similar presentiment; and

as their blood, like his, had all gone down again; some
speculation ensued upon the cause of this sudden change in their

'I know what it was,' said Mr. Giles; 'it was the gate.'

'I shouldn't wonder if it was,' exclaimed Brittles, catching at
the idea.

'You may depend upon it,' said Giles, 'that that gate stopped the

flow of the excitement. I felt all mine suddenly going away, as
I was climbing over it.'

By a remarkable coincidence, the other two had been visited with

the same unpleasant sensation at that precise moment. It was
quite obvious, therefore, that it was the gate; especially as
there was no doubt regarding the time at which the change had
taken place, because all three remembered that they had come in
sight of the robbers at the instant of its occurance.

This dialogue was held between the two men who had surprised the

burglars, and a travelling tinker who had been sleeping in an
outhouse, and who had been roused, together with his two mongrel
curs, to join in the pursuit. Mr. Giles acted in the double
capacity of butler and steward to the old lady of the mansion;
Brittles was a lad of all-work: who, having entered her service a
mere child, was treated as a promising young boy still, though he
was something past thirty.

Encouraging each other with such converse as this; but, keeping

very close together, notwithstanding, and looking apprehensively
round, whenever a fresh gust rattled through the boughs; the
three men hurried back to a tree, behind which they had left
their lantern, lest its light should inform the thieves in what
direction to fire. Catching up the light, they made the best of
their way home, at a good round trot; and long after their dusky
forms had ceased to be discernible, the light might have been
seen twinkling and dancing in the distance, like some exhalation
of the damp and gloomy atmosphere through which it was swiftly

The air grew colder, as day came slowly on; and the mist rolled

along the ground like a dense cloud of smoke. The grass was wet;
the pathways, and low places, were all mire and water; the damp
breath of an unwholesome wind went languidly by, with a hollow
moaning. Still, Oliver lay motionless and insensible on the spot
where Sikes had left him.

Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing,

as its first dull hue--the death of night, rather than the birth
of day--glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had
looked dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more
defined, and gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The
rain came down, thick and fast, and pattered noisily among the
leafless bushes. But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against
him; for he still lay stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his
bed of clay.

At length, a low cry of pain broke the stillness that prevailed;

and uttering it, the boy awoke. His left arm, rudely bandaged in
a shawl, hung heavy and useless at his side; the bandage was
saturated with blood. He was so weak, that he could scarcely
raise himself into a sitting posture; when he had done so, he
looked feebly round for help, and groaned with pain. Trembling
in every joint, from cold and exhaustion, he made an effort to
stand upright; but, shuddering from head to foot, fell prostrate
on the ground.

After a short return of the stupor in which he had been so long

plunged, Oliver: urged by a creeping sickness at his heart,
which seemed to warn him that if he lay there, he must surely
die: got upon his feet, and essayed to walk. His head was dizzy,
and he staggered to and from like a drunken man. But he kept up,
nevertheless, and, with his head drooping languidly on his
breast, went stumbling onward, he knew not whither.

And now, hosts of bewildering and confused ideas came crowding on

his mind. He seemed to be still walking between Sikes and
Crackit, who were angrily disputing--for the very words they
said, sounded in his ears; and when he caught his own attention,
as it were, by making some violent effort to save himself from
falling, he found that he was talking to them. Then, he was alone
with Sikes, plodding on as on the previous day; and as shadowy
people passed them, he felt the robber's grasp upon his wrist.
Suddenly, he started back at the report of firearms; there rose
into the air, loud cries and shouts; lights gleamed before his
eyes; all was noise and tumult, as some unseen hand bore him
hurriedly away. Through all these rapid visions, there ran an
undefined, uneasy conscious of pain, which wearied and tormented
him incessantly.

Thus he staggered on, creeping, almost mechanically, between the

bars of gates, or through hedge-gaps as they came in his way,
until he reached a road. Here the rain began to fall so heavily,
that it roused him.

He looked about, and saw that at no great distance there was a

house, which perhaps he could reach. Pitying his condition, they
might have compassion on him; and if they did not, it would be
better, he thought, to die near human beings, than in the lonely
open fields. He summoned up all his strength for one last trial,
and bent his faltering steps towards it.

As he drew nearer to this house, a feeling come over him that he

had seen it before. He remembered nothing of its details; but
the shape and aspect of the building seemed familiar to him.

That garden wall! On the grass inside, he had fallen on his

knees last night, and prayed the two men's mercy. It was the
very house they had attempted to rob.

Oliver felt such fear come over him when he recognised the place,

that, for the instant, he forgot the agony of his wound, and
thought only of flight. Flight! He could scarcely stand: and
if he were in full possession of all the best powers of his
slight and youthful frame, whither could he fly? He pushed
against the garden-gate; it was unlocked, and swung open on its
hinges. He tottered across the lawn; climbed the steps; knocked
faintly at the door; and, his whole strength failing him, sunk
down against one of the pillars of the little portico.

It happened that about this time, Mr. Giles, Brittles, and the

tinker, were recruiting themselves, after the fatigues and
terrors of the night, with tea and sundries, in the kitchen. Not
that it was Mr. Giles's habit to admit to too great familiarity
the humbler servants: towards whom it was rather his wont to
deport himself with a lofty affability, which, while it
gratified, could not fail to remind them of his superior position
in society. But, death, fires, and burglary, make all men
equals; so Mr. Giles sat with his legs stretched out before the
kitchen fender, leaning his left arm on the table, while, with
his right, he illustrated a circumstantial and minute account of
the robbery, to which his bearers (but especially the cook and
housemaid, who were of the party) listened with breathless

'It was about half-past tow,' said Mr. Giles, 'or I wouldn't

swear that it mightn't have been a little nearer three, when I
woke up, and, turning round in my bed, as it might be so, (here
Mr. Giles turned round in his chair, and pulled the corner of the
table-cloth over him to imitate bed-clothes,) I fancied I heerd a

At this point of the narrative the cook turned pale, and asked

the housemaid to shut the door: who asked Brittles, who asked the
tinker, who pretended not to hear.

'--Heerd a noise,' continued Mr. Giles. 'I says, at first, "This

is illusion"; and was composing myself off to sleep, when I heerd
the noise again, distinct.'

'What sort of a noise?' asked the cook.

'A kind of a busting noise,' replied Mr. Giles, looking round

'More like the noise of powdering a iron bar on a nutmeg-grater,'

suggested Brittles.

'It was, when you HEERD it, sir,' rejoined Mr. Giles; 'but, at

this time, it had a busting sound. I turned down the clothes';
continued Giles, rolling back the table-cloth, 'sat up in bed;
and listened.'

The cook and housemaid simultaneously ejaculated 'Lor!' and drew

their chairs closer together.

'I heerd it now, quite apparent,' resumed Mr. Giles. '"Somebody,"

I says, "is forcing of a door, or window; what's to be done?
I'll call up that poor lad, Brittles, and save him from being
murdered in his bed; or his throat," I says, "may be cut from his
right ear to his left, without his ever knowing it."'

Here, all eyes were turned upon Brittles, who fixed his upon the

speaker, and stared at him, with his mouth wide open, and his
face expressive of the most unmitigated horror.

'I tossed off the clothes,' said Giles, throwing away the

table-cloth, and looking very hard at the cook and housemaid,
'got softly out of bed; drew on a pair of--'

'Ladies present, Mr. Giles,' murmured the tinker.

'--Of SHOES, sir,' said Giles, turning upon him, and laying great
emphasis on the word; 'seized the loaded pistol that always goes
upstairs with the plate-basket; and walked on tiptoes to his
room. "Brittles," I says, when I had woke him, "don't be

'So you did,' observed Brittles, in a low voice.

'"We're dead men, I think, Brittles," I says,' continued Giles;
'"but don't be frightened."'

'WAS he frightened?' asked the cook.

'Not a bit of it,' replied Mr. Giles. 'He was as firm--ah!
pretty near as firm as I was.'

'I should have died at once, I'm sure, if it had been me,'

observed the housemaid.

'You're a woman,' retorted Brittles, plucking up a little.

'Brittles is right,' said Mr. Giles, nodding his head,

Share with your friends:
1   ...   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   ...   34

The database is protected by copyright ©dentisty.org 2019
send message

    Main page