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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 19)


'I shall do you a mischief!' interposed the Jew, goaded by thesereproaches; 'a mischief worse than that, if you say much more!'

The girl said nothing more; but, tearing her hair and dress in atransport of passion, made such a rush at the Jew as wouldprobably have left signal marks of her revenge upon him, had nother wrists been seized by Sikes at the right moment; upon which,she made a few ineffectual struggles, and fainted.

'She's all right now,' said Sikes, laying her down in a corner. 'She's uncommon strong in the arms, when she's up in this way.'

The Jew wiped his forehead: and smiled, as if it were a relief tohave the disturbance over; but neither he, nor Sikes, nor thedog, nor the boys, seemed to consider it in any other light thana common occurance incidental to business.

'It's the worst of having to do with women,' said the Jew,replacing his club; 'but they're clever, and we can't get on, inour line, without 'em. Charley, show Oliver to bed.'

'I suppose he'd better not wear his best clothes tomorrow, Fagin,had he?' inquired Charley Bates.

'Certainly not,' replied the Jew, reciprocating the grin withwhich Charley put the question.

Master Bates, apparently much delighted with his commission, tookthe cleft stick: and led Oliver into an adjacent kitchen, wherethere were two or three of the beds on which he had slept before;and here, with many uncontrollable bursts of laughter, heproduced the identical old suit of clothes which Oliver had somuch congratulated himself upon leaving off at Mr. Brownlow's;and the accidental display of which, to Fagin, by the Jew whopurchased them, had been the very first clue received, of hiswhereabout.

'Put off the smart ones,' said Charley, 'and I'll give 'em toFagin to take care of. What fun it is!'

Poor Oliver unwillingly complied. Master Bates rolling up thenew clothes under his arm, departed from the room, leaving Oliverin the dark, and locking the door behind him.

The noise of Charley's laughter, and the voice of Miss Betsy, whoopportunely arrived to throw water over her friend, and performother feminine offices for the promotion of her recovery, mighthave kept many people awake under more happy circumstances thanthose in which Oliver was placed. But he was sick and weary; andhe soon fell sound asleep.

CHAPTER XVII

OLIVER'S DESTINY CONTINUING UNPROPITIOUS, BRINGS A GREAT MAN TOLONDON TO INJURE HIS REPUTATION

It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas,to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regularalternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streakybacon. The hero sinks upon his straw bed, weighed down byfetters and misfortunes; in the next scene, his faithful butunconscious squire regales the audience with a comic song. Webehold, with throbbing bosoms, the heroine in the grasp of aproud and ruthless baron: her virtue and her life alike indanger, drawing forth her dagger to preserve the one at the costof the other; and just as our expectations are wrought up to thehighest pitch, a whistle is heard, and we are straightwaytransported to the great hall of the castle; where a grey-headedseneschal sings a funny chorus with a funnier body of vassals,who are free of all sorts of places, from church vaults topalaces, and roam about in company, carolling perpetually.

Such changes appear absurd; but they are not so unnatural as theywould seem at first sight. The transitions in real life fromwell-spread boards to death-beds, and from mourning-weeds toholiday garments, are not a whit less startling; only, there, weare busy actors, instead of passive lookers-on, which makes avast difference. The actors in the mimic life of the theatre,are blind to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of passionor feeling, which, presented before the eyes of mere spectators,are at once condemned as outrageous and preposterous.

As sudden shiftings of the scene, and rapid changes of time andplace, are not only sanctioned in books by long usage, but are bymany considered as the great art of authorship: an author's skillin his craft being, by such critics, chiefly estimated withrelation to the dilemmas in which he leaves his characters at theend of every chapter: this brief introduction to the present onemay perhaps be deemed unnecessary. If so, let it be considered adelicate intimation on the part of the historian that he is goingback to the town in which Oliver Twist was born; the readertaking it for granted that there are good and substantial reasonsfor making the journey, or he would not be invited to proceedupon such an expedition.

Mr. Bumble emerged at early morning from the workhouse-gate, andwalked with portly carriage and commanding steps, up the HighStreet. He was in the full bloom and pride of beadlehood; hiscocked hat and coat were dazzling in the morning sun; he clutchedhis cane with the vigorous tenacity of health and power. Mr.Bumble always carried his head high; but this morning it washigher than usual. There was an abstraction in his eye, anelevation in his air, which might have warned an observantstranger that thoughts were passing in the beadle's mind, toogreat for utterance.

Mr. Bumble stopped not to converse with the small shopkeepers andothers who spoke to him, deferentially, as he passed along. Hemerely returned their salutations with a wave of his hand, andrelaxed not in his dignified pace, until he reached the farmwhere Mrs. Mann tended the infant paupers with parochial care.

'Drat that beadle!' said Mrs. Mann, hearing the well-knownshaking at the garden-gate. 'If it isn't him at this time in themorning! Lauk, Mr. Bumble, only think of its being you! Well,dear me, it IS a pleasure, this is! Come into the parlour, sir,please.'

The first sentence was addressed to Susan; and the exclamationsof delight were uttered to Mr. Bumble: as the good lady unlockedthe garden-gate: and showed him, with great attention andrespect, into the house.

'Mrs. Mann,' said Mr. Bumble; not sitting upon, or droppinghimself into a seat, as any common jackanapes would: but lettinghimself gradually and slowly down into a chair; 'Mrs. Mann,ma'am, good morning.'

'Well, and good morning to YOU, sir,' replied Mrs. Mann, withmany smiles; 'and hoping you find yourself well, sir!'

'So-so, Mrs. Mann,' replied the beadle. 'A porochial life is nota bed of roses, Mrs. Mann.'

'Ah, that it isn't indeed, Mr. Bumble,' rejoined the lady. Andall the infant paupers might have chorussed the rejoinder withgreat propriety, if they had heard it.

'A porochial life, ma'am,' continued Mr. Bumble, striking thetable with his cane, 'is a life of worrit, and vexation, andhardihood; but all public characters, as I may say, must sufferprosecution.'

Mrs. Mann, not very well knowing what the beadle meant, raisedher hands with a look of sympathy, and sighed.

'Ah! You may well sigh, Mrs. Mann!' said the beadle.

Finding she had done right, Mrs. Mann sighed again: evidently tothe satisfaction of the public character: who, repressing acomplacent smile by looking sternly at his cocked hat, said,

'Mrs. Mann, I am going to London.'

'Lauk, Mr. Bumble!' cried Mrs. Mann, starting back.

'To London, ma'am,' resumed the inflexible beadle, 'by coach. Iand two paupers, Mrs. Mann! A legal action is a coming on, abouta settlement; and the board has appointed me--me, Mrs. Mann--todispose to the matter before the quarter-sessions at Clerkinwell.

And I very much question,' added Mr. Bumble, drawing himself up,'whether the Clerkinwell Sessions will not find themselves in thewrong box before they have done with me.'

'Oh! you mustn't be too hard upon them, sir,' said Mrs. Mann,coaxingly.

'The Clerkinwell Sessions have brought it upon themselves,ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble; 'and if the Clerkinwell Sessions findthat they come off rather worse than they expected, theClerkinwell Sessions have only themselves to thank.'

There was so much determination and depth of purpose about themenacing manner in which Mr. Bumble delivered himself of thesewords, that Mrs. Mann appeared quite awed by them. At length shesaid,

'You're going by coach, sir? I thought it was always usual tosend them paupers in carts.'

'That's when they're ill, Mrs. Mann,' said the beadle. 'We putthe sick paupers into open carts in the rainy weather, to preventtheir taking cold.'

'Oh!' said Mrs. Mann.

'The opposition coach contracts for these two; and takes themcheap,' said Mr. Bumble. 'They are both in a very low state, andwe find it would come two pound cheaper to move 'em than to bury'em--that is, if we can throw 'em upon another parish, which Ithink we shall be able to do, if they don't die upon the road tospite us. Ha! ha! ha!'

When Mr. Bumble had laughed a little while, his eyes againencountered the cocked hat; and he became grave.

'We are forgetting business, ma'am,' said the beadle; 'here isyour porochial stipend for the month."

Mr. Bumble produced some silver money rolled up in paper, fromhis pocket-book; and requested a receipt: which Mrs. Mann wrote.

'It's very much blotted, sir,' said the farmer of infants; 'butit's formal enough, I dare say. Thank you, Mr. Bumble, sir, I amvery much obliged to you, I'm sure.'

Mr. Bumble nodded, blandly, in acknowledgment of Mrs. Mann'scurtsey; and inquired how the children were.

'Bless their dear little hearts!' said Mrs. Mann with emotion,'they're as well as can be, the dears! Of course, except the twothat died last week. And little Dick.'

'Isn't that boy no better?' inquired Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Mann shook her head.

'He's a ill-conditioned, wicious, bad-disposed porochial childthat,' said Mr. Bumble angrily. 'Where is he?'

'I'll bring him to you in one minute, sir,' replied Mrs. Mann.'Here, you Dick!'

After some calling, Dick was discovered. Having had his face putunder the pump, and dried upon Mrs. Mann's gown, he was led intothe awful presence of Mr. Bumble, the beadle.

The child was pale and thin; his cheeks were sunken; and his eyeslarge and bright. The scanty parish dress, the livery of hismisery, hung loosely on his feeble body; and his young limbs hadwasted away, like those of an old man.

Such was the little being who stood trembling beneath Mr.Bumble's glance; not daring to lift his eyes from the floor; anddreading even to hear the beadle's voice.

'Can't you look at the gentleman, you obstinate boy?' said Mrs.Mann.

The child meekly raised his eyes, and encountered those of Mr.Bumble.

'What's the matter with you, porochial Dick?' inquired Mr.Bumble, with well-timed jocularity.

'Nothing, sir,' replied the child faintly.

'I should think not,' said Mrs. Mann, who had of course laughedvery much at Mr. Bumble's humour.

'You want for nothing, I'm sure.'

'I should like--' faltered the child.

'Hey-day!' interposed Mr. Mann, 'I suppose you're going to saythat you DO want for something, now? Why, you little wretch--'

'Stop, Mrs. Mann, stop!' said the beadle, raising his hand with ashow of authority. 'Like what, sir, eh?'

'I should like,' said the child, 'to leave my dear love to poorOliver Twist; and to let him know how often I have sat by myselfand cried to think of his wandering about in the dark nights withnobody to help him. And I should like to tell him,' said thechild pressing his small hands together, and speaking with greatfervour, 'that I was glad to die when I was very young; for,perhaps, if I had lived to be a man, and had grown old, my littlesister who is in Heaven, might forget me, or be unlike me; and itwould be so much happier if we were both children theretogether.'

Mr. Bumble surveyed the little speaker, from head to foot, withindescribable astonishment; and, turning to his companion, said,'They're all in one story, Mrs. Mann. That out-dacious Oliverhad demogalized them all!'

'I couldn't have believed it, sir' said Mrs Mann, holding up herhands, and looking malignantly at Dick. 'I never see such ahardened little wretch!'

'Take him away, ma'am!' said Mr. Bumble imperiously. 'This mustbe stated to the board, Mrs. Mann.

'I hope the gentleman will understand that it isn't my fault,sir?' said Mrs. Mann, whimpering pathetically.

'They shall understand that, ma'am; they shall be acquainted withthe true state of the case,' said Mr. Bumble. 'There; take himaway, I can't bear the sight on him.'

Dick was immediately taken away, and locked up in thecoal-cellar. Mr. Bumble shortly afterwards took himself off, toprepare for his journey.

At six o'clock next morning, Mr. Bumble: having exchanged hiscocked hat for a round one, and encased his person in a bluegreat-coat with a cape to it: took his place on the outside ofthe coach, accompanied by the criminals whose settlement wasdisputed; with whom, in due course of time, he arrived in London.

He experienced no other crosses on the way, than those whichoriginated in the perverse behaviour of the two paupers, whopersisted in shivering, and complaining of the cold, in a mannerwhich, Mr. Bumble declared, caused his teeth to chatter in hishead, and made him feel quite uncomfortable; although he had agreat-coat on.

Having disposed of these evil-minded persons for the night, Mr.Bumble sat himself down in the house at which the coach stopped;and took a temperate dinner of steaks, oyster sauce, and porter. Putting a glass of hot gin-and-water on the chimney-piece, hedrew his chair to the fire; and, with sundry moral reflections onthe too-prevalent sin of discontent and complaining, composedhimself to read the paper.

The very first paragraph upon which Mr. Bumble's eye rested, wasthe following advertisement.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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