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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 4)


'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 runaway simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.

'And this man that's to be his master--you, sir--you'll treat himwell, 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. Gamfielddoggedly.

'You're a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,open-hearted man,' said the old gentleman: turning hisspectacles in the direction of the candidate for Oliver'spremium, whose villainous countenance was a regular stampedreceipt for cruelty. But the magistrate was half blind and halfchildish, so he couldn't reasonably be expected to discern whatother 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 abouthim for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand hadbeen where the old gentleman though it was, he would have dippedhis pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would havebeen straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to beimmediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course,that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; andhappening in the course of his search to look straight beforehim, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of OliverTwist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches ofBumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his futuremaster, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, toopalpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked fromOliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with acheerful 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 othermagistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with anexpression of interest. 'Now, boy, tell us what's the matter: don't be afraid.'

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayedthat they would order him back to the dark room-- that they wouldstarve him--beat him--kill him if they pleased--rather than sendhim away with that dreadful man.

'Well!' said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with mostimpressive solemnite. 'Well! of all the artful and designingorphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the mostbare-facedest.'

'Hold your tongue, Beadle,' said the second old gentleman, whenMr. Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.

'I beg your worship's pardon,' said Mr. Bumble, incredulous ofhaving heard aright. 'Did your worship speak to me?'

'Yes. Hold your tongue.'

Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered tohold his tongue! A moral revolution!

The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at hiscompanion, 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 willnot form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of anyimproper conduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.'

'The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion onthe matter,' said the second old gentleman sharply. 'Take theboy back to the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems towant it.'

That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat mostpositively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would behung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain. Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomy mystery, and said he wishedhe might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfield replied, that hewished he might come to him; which, although he agreed with thebeadle in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totalyopposite description.

The next morning, the public were once informed that Oliver Twistwas again To Let, and that five pounds would be paid to anybodywho would take possession of him.

CHAPTER IV

OLIVER, BEING OFFERED ANOTHER PLACE, MAKES HIS FIRST ENTRY INTOPUBLIC LIFE

In great families, when an advantageous place cannot be obtained,either in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, forthe young man who is growing up, it is a very general custom tosend him to sea. The board, in imitation of so wise and salutaryan example, took counsel together on the expediency of shippingoff Oliver Twist, in some small trading vessel bound to a goodunhealthy port. This suggested itself as the very best thingthat could possibly be done with him: the probability being, thatthe skipper would flog him to death, in a playful mood, some dayafter dinner, or would knock his brains out with an iron bar;both pastimes being, as is pretty generally known, very favouriteand common recreations among gentleman of that class. The morethe case presented itself to the board, in this point of view,the more manifold the advantages of the step appeared; so, theycame to the conclusion that the only way of providing for Olivereffectually, was to send him to sea without delay.

Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminaryinquiries, with the view of finding out some captain or other whowanted a cabin-boy without any friends; and was returning to theworkhouse to communicate the result of his mission; when heencountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry,the parochial undertaker.

Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in asuit of threadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of thesame colour, and shoes to answer. His features were notnaturally intended to wear a smiling aspect, but he was ingeneral rather given to professional jocosity. His step waselastic, and his face betokened inward pleasantry, as he advancedto 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, ashe thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proferred snuff-boxof the undertaker: which was an ingenious little model of apatent coffin. 'I say you'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,'repeated Mr. Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in afriendly manner, with his cane.

'Think so?' said the undertaker in a tone which half admitted andhalf disputed the probability of the event. 'The prices allowedby the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.'

'So are the coffins,' replied the beadle: with precisely as nearan approach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge in.

Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he oughtto be; and laughed a long time without cessation. 'Well, well,Mr. Bumble,' he said at length, 'there's no denying that, sincethe new system of feeding has come in, the coffins are somethingnarrower and more shallow than they used to be; but we must havesome profit, Mr. Bumble. Well-seasoned timber is an expensivearticle, sir; and all the iron handles come, by canal, fromBirmingham.'

'Well, well,' said Mr. Bumble, 'every trade has its drawbacks. Afair profit is, of course, allowable.'

'Of course, of course,' replied the undertaker; 'and if I don'tget a profit upon this or that particular article, why, I make itup in the long-run, you see--he! he! he!'

'Just so,' said Mr. Bumble.

'Though I must say,' continued the undertaker, resuming thecurrent of observations which the beadle had interrupted: 'thoughI must say, Mr. Bumble, that I have to contend against one verygreat disadvantage: which is, that all the stout people go offthe quickest. The people who have been better off, and have paidrates for many years, are the first to sink when they come intothe house; and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three or fourinches over one's calculation makes a great hole in one'sprofits: especially when one has a family to provide for, sir.'

As Mr. Sowerberry said this, with the becoming indignation of anill-used man; and as Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended toconvey a reflection on the honour of the parish; the lattergentleman thought it advisable to change the subject. OliverTwist being uppermost in his mind, he made him his theme.

'By the bye,' said Mr. Bumble, 'you don't know anybody who wantsa boy, do you? A porochial 'prentis, who is at present adead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochialthroat? Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?' As Mr.Bumble spoke, he raised his cane to the bill above him, and gavethree distinct raps upon the words 'five pounds': which wereprinted thereon in Roman capitals of gigantic size.

'Gadso!' said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by thegilt-edged lappel of his official coat; 'that's just the verything I wanted to speak to you about. You know--dear me, what avery elegant button this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed itbefore.'

'Yes, I think it rather pretty,' said the beadle, glancingproudly downwards at the large brass buttons which embellishedhis coat. 'The die is the same as the porochial seal--the GoodSamaritan healing the sick and bruised man. The board presentedit to me on Newyear's morning, Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, Iremember, for the first time, to attend the inquest on thatreduced 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 commonnecessaries of life," didn't they?'

Mr. Bumble nodded.

'And they made it a special verdict, I think,' said theundertaker, 'by adding some words to the effect, that if therelieving officer had--'

'Tush! Foolery!' interposed the beadle. 'If the board attendedto all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they'd haveenough to do.'

'Very true,' said the undertaker; 'they would indeed.'

'Juries,' said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was hiswont 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 'emthan 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 thehouse for a week or two,' said the beadle; 'the rules andregulations of the board would soon bring their spirit down for'em.'

'Let 'em alone for that,' replied the undertaker. So saying, hesmiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignantparish officer.

Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat; took a handkerchief from theinside of the crown; wiped from his forehead the perspirationwhich 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 agood deal towards the poor's rates.'

'Hem!' said Mr. Bumble. 'Well?'

'Well,' replied the undertaker, 'I was thinking that if I pay somuch towards 'em, I've a right to get as much out of 'em as Ican, Mr. Bumble; and so--I think I'll take the boy myself.'

Mr. Bumble grasped the undertaker by the arm, and led him intothe building. Mr. Sowerberry was closeted with the board forfive minutes; and it was arranged that Oliver should go to himthat evening 'upon liking'--a phrase which means, in the case ofa parish apprentice, that if the master find, upon a short trial,that he can get enough work out of a boy without putting too muchfood into him, he shall have him for a term of years, to do whathe likes with.

When little Oliver was taken before 'the gentlemen' that evening;and informed that he was to go, that night, as general house-ladto 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 mightbe, he evinced so little emotion, that they by common consentpronounced him a hardened young rascal, and orered Mr. Bumble toremove him forthwith.

Now, although it was very natural that the board, of all peoplein the world, should feel in a great state of virtuousastonishment and horror at the smallest tokens of want of feelingon the part of anybody, they were rather out, in this particularinstance. The simple fact was, that Oliver, instead ofpossessing too little feeling, possessed rather too much; and wasin a fair way of being reduced, for life, to a state of brutalstupidity and sullenness by the ill usage he had received. Heheard the news of his destination, in perfect silence; and,having had his luggage put into his hand--which was not verydifficult to carry, inasmuch as it was all comprised within thelimits of a brown paper parcel, about half a foot square by threeinches deep--he pulled his cap over his eyes; and once moreattaching himself to Mr. Bumble's coat cuff, was led away by thatdignitary to a new scene of suffering.

For some time, Mr. Bumble drew Oliver along, without notice orremark; for the beadle carried his head very erect, as a beadlealways should: and, it being a windy day, little Oliver wascompletely enshrouded by the skirts of Mr. Bumble's coat as theyblew open, and disclosed to great advantage his flapped waistcoatand drab plush knee-breeches. As they drew near to theirdestination, however, Mr. Bumble thought it expedient to lookdown, and see that the boy was in good order for inspection byhis new master: which he accordingly did, with a fit andbecoming air of gracious patronage.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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