'Ah, bless 'em, that I do, dear as it is,' replied the nurse. 'Icouldn't see
'em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.'
'No'; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; 'no, you could not. You are ahumane woman,
Mrs. Mann.' (Here she set down the glass.) 'Ishall 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 yourhealth with cheerfulness,
Mrs. Mann'; and he swallowed half ofit.
'And now about business,' said the beadle, taking out a leathernpocket-book.
'The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, isnine year old to-day.;
'Bless him!' interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye withthe corner of her
'And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which wasafterwards increased
to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the mostsuperlative, and, I may say, supernat'ral
exertions on the partof this parish,' said Bumble, 'we have never been able todiscover
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 amoment's reflection,
'How comes he to have any name at all,then?'
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'Iinwented it.'
'You, Mr. Bumble!'
'I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. Thelast was a S,--Swubble,
I named him. This was a T,--Twist, Inamed HIM. The next one comes will be Unwin,
and the nextVilkins. 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 thecompliment; 'perhaps
I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.' Hefinished the gin-and-water, and added,
'Oliver being now too oldto remain here, the board have determined to have him back
intothe house. I have come out myself to take him there. So let mesee him at once.'
'I'll fetch him directly,' said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room forthat purpose.
Oliver, having had by this time as much of theouter coat of dirt which encrusted
his face and hands, removed,as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into
the room byhis benevolent protectress.
'Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,' said Mrs. Mann.
Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on thechair, and the
cocked hat on the table.
'Will you go along with me, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble, in amajestic voice.
Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody withgreat readiness,
when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs.Mann, who had got behind the beadle's
chair, and was shaking herfist at him with a furious countenance. He took the hint
atonce, for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body notto 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 seeyou sometimes.'
This was no very great consolation to the child. Young as hewas, however, he
had sense enough to make a feint of feelinggreat regret at going away. It was no
very difficult matter forthe boy to call tears into his eyes. Hunger and recent
ill-usageare great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried verynaturally
indeed. Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, andwhat Oliver wanted a great deal
more, a piece of bread andbutter, less he should seem too hungry when he got to
theworkhouse. With the slice of bread in his hand, and the littlebrown-cloth parish
cap on his head, Oliver was then led away byMr. Bumble from the wretched home where
one kind word or look hadnever lighted the gloom of his infant years. And yet he
burstinto an agony of childish grief, as the cottage-gate closed afterhim. Wretched
as were the little companions in misery he wasleaving behind, they were the only
friends he had ever known; anda sense of his loneliness in the great wide world,
sank into thechild's heart for the first time.
Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmlygrasping his gold-laced
cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring atthe end of every quarter of a mile whether
they were 'nearlythere.' To these interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very briefand
snappish replies; for the temporary blandness whichgin-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 quarterof an hour, and
had scarcely completed the demolition of a secondslice of bread, when Mr. Bumble,
who had handed him over to thecare of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it
was a boardnight, informed him that the board had said he was to appearbefore it
Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live boardwas, Oliver was
rather astounded by this intelligence, and wasnot quite certain whether he ought
to laugh or cry. He had notime to think about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble
gave hima tap on the head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another onthe back
to make him lively: and bidding him to follow,conducted him into a large white-washed
room, where eight or tenfat gentlemen were sitting round a table. At the top of
thetable, seated in an arm-chair rather higher than the rest, was aparticularly
fat gentleman with a very round, red face.
'Bow to the board,' said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two orthree tears that were
lingering in his eyes; and seeing no boardbut 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, whichmade him tremble:
and the beadle gave him another tap behind,which made him cry. These two causes
made him answer in a verylow and hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a whitewaistcoat
said he was a fool. Which was a capital way of raisinghis spirits, and putting him
quite at his ease.
'Boy,' said the gentleman in the high chair, 'listen to me. Youknow 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 thewhite waistcoat.
'Hush!' said the gentleman who had spoken first. 'You knowyou've got no father
or mother, and that you were brought up bythe parish, don't you?'
'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.
'What are you crying for?' inquired the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. And
to be sure it was very extraordinary. What COULDthe boy be crying for?
'I hope you say your prayers every night,' said another gentlemanin a gruff voice;
'and pray for the people who feed you, and takecare of you--like a Christian.'
'Yes, sir,' stammered the boy. The gentleman who spoke last wasunconsciously
right. It would have been very like a Christian,and a marvellously good Christian
too, if Oliver had prayed forthe people who fed and took care of HIM. But he hadn't,
becausenobody had taught him.
'Well! You have come here to be educated, and taught a usefultrade,' 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 simpleprocess of picking
oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction ofthe beadle, and was then hurried away
to a large ward; where, ona rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep. What a
novelillustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupersgo to sleep!
Poor Oliver! He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happyunconsciousness of
all around him, that the board had that veryday arrived at a decision which would
exercise the most materialinfluence over all his future fortunes. But they had.
And thiswas it:
The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophicalmen; and when they
came to turn their attention to the workhouse,they found out at once, what ordinary
folks would nver havediscovered--the poor people liked it! It was a regular place
ofpublic entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where therewas nothing to
pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supperall the year round; a brick and
mortar elysium, where it was allplay and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking
very knowing;'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, inno
time.' So, they established the rule, that all poor peopleshould have the alternative
(for they would compel nobody, notthey), of being starved by a gradual process in
the house, or bya quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with thewater-works
to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with acorn-factor to supply periodically
small quantities of oatmeal;and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an
onion twice aweek, and half a roll of Sundays. They made a great many otherwise
and humane regulations, having reference to the ladies,which it is not necessary
to repeat; kindly undertook to divorcepoor married people, in consequence of the
great expense of asuit in Doctors' Commons; and, instead of compelling a man tosupport
his family, as they had theretofore done, took his familyaway from him, and made
him a bachelor! There is no saying howmany applicants for relief, under these last
two heads, mighthave started up in all classes of society, if it had not beencoupled
with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men,and had provided for this
difficulty. The relief was inseparablefrom the workhouse and the gruel; and that
For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, thesystem was in full
operation. It was rather expensive at first,in consequence of the increase in the
undertaker's bill, and thenecessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers,
whichfluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a weekor two's gruel.
But the number of workhouse inmates got thin aswell as the paupers; and the board
were in ecstasies.
The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, witha copper at
one end: out of which the master, dressed in anapron for the purpose, and assisted
by one or two women, ladledthe gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each
boy hadone porringer, and no more--except on occasions of great publicrejoicing,
when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.
The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them withtheir spoons till
they shone again; and when they had performedthis operation (which never took very
long, the spoons beingnearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at thecopper,
with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured thevery bricks of which it
was composed; employing themselves,meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously,
with theview of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might havebeen cast
thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions
suffered the tortures of slowstarvation for three months: at last they got so voracious
andwild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, andhadn't been used
to that sort of thing (for his father had kept asmall cook-shop), hinted darkly
to his companions, that unless hehad another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid
he might somenight happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened tobe a
weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; andthey implicitly believed
him. A council was held; lots were castwho should walk up to the master after supper
that evening, andask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, inhis cook's uniform,
stationed himself at the copper; his pauperassistants ranged themselves behind him;
the gruel was servedout; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The grueldisappeared;
the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver;while his next neighbours nudged
him. Child as he was, he wasdesperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He
rose fromthe 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. Hegazed in stupified
astonishment on the small rebel for someseconds, and then clung for support to the
copper. Theassistants 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; pinionedhim in his arm;
and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushedinto the room
in great excitement, and addressing the gentlemanin the high chair, said,
'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has askedfor more!'
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on everycountenance.
'For MORE!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, andanswer me distinctly.
Do I understand that he asked for more,after he had eaten the supper allotted by
'He did, sir,' replied Bumble.
'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. 'I know that
boy will be hung.'
Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion. Ananimated discussion
took place. Oliver was ordered into instantconfinement; and a bill was next morning
pasted on the outside ofthe gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who
wouldtake Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words,five pounds and
Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman whowanted an apprentice to any trade,
business, or calling.
'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said thegentleman in the
white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate andread the bill next morning: 'I never
was more convinced ofanything in my life, than I am that that boy will come to behung.'