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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 8)


'No, I will not, sir,' replied the beadle. And the cocked hatand cane having been, by this time, adjusted to their owner'ssatisfaction, Mr. Bumble and Noah Claypole betook themselves withall speed to the undertaker's shop.

Here the position of affairs had not at all improved. Sowerberryhad not yet returned, and Oliver continued to kick, withundiminished vigour, at the cellar-door. The accounts of hisferocity as related by Mrs. Sowerberry and Charlotte, were of sostartling a nature, that Mr. Bumble judged it prudent to parley,before opening the door. With this view he gave a kick at theoutside, by way of prelude; and, then, applying his mouth to thekeyhole, said, in a deep and impressive tone:

'Oliver!'

'Come; you let me out!' replied Oliver, from the inside.

'Do you know this here voice, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble.

'Yes,' replied Oliver.

'Ain't you afraid of it, sir? Ain't you a-trembling while Ispeak, sir?' said Mr. Bumble.

'No!' replied Oliver, boldly.

An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit,and was in the habit of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not alittle. He stepped back from the keyhole; drew himself up to hisfull height; and looked from one to another of the threebystanders, in mute astonishment.

'Oh, you know, Mr. Bumble, he must be mad,' said Mrs. Sowerberry.

'No boy in half his senses could venture to speak so to you.'

'It's not Madness, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble, after a fewmoments of deep meditation. 'It's Meat.'

'What?' exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.

'Meat, ma'am, meat,' replied Bumble, with stern emphasis. 'You've over-fed him, ma'am. You've raised a artificial soul andspirit in him, ma'am unbecoming a person of his condition: as theboard, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tellyou. What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It's quiteenough that we let 'em have live bodies. If you had kept the boyon gruel, ma'am, this would never have happened.'

'Dear, dear!' ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising hereyes to the kitchen ceiling: 'this comes of being liberal!'

The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, had consisted of aprofuse bestowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends whichnobody else would eat; so there was a great deal of meekness andself-devotion in her voluntarily remaining under Mr. Bumble'sheavy accusation. Of which, to do her justice, she was whollyinnocent, in thought, word, or deed.

'Ah!' said Mr. Bumble, when the lady brought her eyes down toearth again; 'the only thing that can be done now, that I knowof, is to leave him in the cellar for a day or so, till he's alittle starved down; and then to take him out, and keep him ongruel all through the apprenticeship. He comes of a bad family. Excitable natures, Mrs. Sowerberry! Both the nurse and doctorsaid, that that mother of his made her way here, againstdifficulties and pain that would have killed any well-disposedwoman, weeks before.'

At this point of Mr. Bumble's discourse, Oliver, just hearingenough to know that some allusion was being made to his mother,recommenced kicking, with a violence that rendered every othersound inaudible. Sowerberry returned at this juncture. Oliver'soffence having been explained to him, with such exaggerations asthe ladies thought best calculated to rouse his ire, he unlockedthe cellar-door in a twinkling, and dragged his rebelliousapprentice out, by the collar.

Oliver's clothes had been torn in the beating he had received;his face was bruised and scratched; and his hair scattered overhis forehead. The angry flush had not disappeared, however; andwhen he was pulled out of his prison, he scowled boldly on Noah,and looked quite undismayed.

'Now, you are a nice young fellow, ain't you?' said Sowerberry;giving Oliver a shake, and a box on the ear.

'He called my mother names,' replied Oliver.

'Well, and what if he did, you little ungrateful wretch?' saidMrs. Sowerberry. 'She deserved what he said, and worse.'

'She didn't' said Oliver.

'She did,' said Mrs. Sowerberry.

'It's a lie!' said Oliver.

Mrs. Sowerberry burst into a flood of tears.

This flood of tears left Mr. Sowerberry no alternative. If hehad hesitated for one instant to punish Oliver most severely, itmust be quite clear to every experienced reader that he wouldhave been, according to all precedents in disputes of matrimonyestablished, a brute, an unnatural husband, an insultingcreature, a base imitation of a man, and various other agreeablecharacters too numerous for recital within the limits of thischapter. To do him justice, he was, as far as his power went--itwas not very extensive--kindly disposed towards the boy; perhaps,because it was his interest to be so; perhaps, because his wifedisliked him. The flood of tears, however, left him no resource;so he at once gave him a drubbing, which satisfied even Mrs.Sowerberry herself, and rendered Mr. Bumble's subsequentapplication of the parochial cane, rather unnecessary. For therest of the day, he was shut up in the back kitchen, in companywith a pump and a slice of bread; and at night, Mrs. Sowerberry,after making various remarks outside the door, by no meanscomplimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the room,and, amidst the jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte,ordered him upstairs to his dismal bed.

It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillnessof the gloomy workshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way tothe feelings which the day's treatment may be supposed likely tohave awakened in a mere child. He had listened to their tauntswith a look of contempt; he had borne the lash without a cry: for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would havekept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted himalive. But now, when there were none to see or hear him, he fellupon his knees on the floor; and, hiding his face in his hands,wept such tears as, God send for the credit of our nature, few soyoung may ever have cause to pour out before him!

For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. Thecandle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet. Having gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, hegently undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad.

It was a cold, dark night. The stars seemed, to the boy's eyes,farther from the earth than he had ever seen them before; therewas no wind; and the sombre shadows thrown by the trees upon theground, looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still. He softly reclosed the door. Having availed himself of theexpiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the fewarticles of wearing apparel he had, sat himself down upon abench, to wait for morning.

With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevicesin the shutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door. Onetimid look around--one moment's pause of hesitation--he hadclosed it behind him, and was in the open street.

He looked to the right and to the left, uncertain whither to fly.

He remembered to have seen the waggons, as they went out, toilingup the hill. He took the same route; and arriving at a footpathacross the fields: which he knew, after some distance, led outagain into the road; struck into it, and walked quickly on.

Along this same footpath, Oliver well-remembered he had trottedbeside Mr. Bumble, when he first carried him to the workhousefrom the farm. His way lay directly in front of the cottage. His heart beat quickly when he bethought himself of this; and hehalf resolved to turn back. He had come a long way though, andshould lose a great deal of time by doing so. Besides, it was soearly that there was very little fear of his being seen; so hewalked on.

He reached the house. There was no appearance of its inmatesstirring at that early hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into thegarden. A child was weeding one of the little beds; as hestopped, he raised his pale face and disclosed the features ofone of his former companions. Oliver felt glad to see him,before he went; for, though younger than himself, he had been hislittle friend and playmate. They had been beaten, and starved,and shut up together, many and many a time.

'Hush, Dick!' said Oliver, as the boy ran to the gate, and thrusthis thin arm between the rails to greet him. 'Is any one up?'

'Nobody but me,' replied the child.

'You musn't say you saw me, Dick,' said Oliver. 'I am runningaway. They beat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek myfortune, some long way off. I don't know where. How pale youare!'

'I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,' replied the childwith a faint smile. 'I am very glad to see you, dear; but don'tstop, don't stop!'

'Yes, yes, I will, to say good-b'ye to you,' replied Oliver. 'Ishall see you again, Dick. I know I shall! You will be well andhappy!'

'I hope so,' replied the child. 'After I am dead, but notbefore. I know the doctor must be right, Oliver, because I dreamso much of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never seewhen I am awake. Kiss me,' said the child, climbing up the lowgate, and flinging his little arms round Oliver's neck. 'Good-b'ye, dear! God bless you!'

The blessing was from a young child's lips, but it was the firstthat Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through thestruggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his afterlife, he never once forgot it.

CHAPTER VIII

OLIVER WALKS TO LONDON. HE ENCOUNTERS ON THE ROAD A STRANGE SORTOF YOUNG GENTLEMAN

Oliver reached the stile at which the by-path terminated; andonce more gained the high-road. It was eight o'clock now. Thoughhe was nearly five miles away from the town, he ran, and hidbehind the hedges, by turns, till noon: fearing that he might bepursued and overtaken. Then he sat down to rest by the side ofthe milestone, and began to think, for the first time, where hehad better go and try to live.

The stone by which he was seated, bore, in large characters, anintimation that it was just seventy miles from that spot toLondon. The name awakened a new train of ideas in the boy's mind.

London!--that great place!--nobody--not even Mr. Bumble--couldever find him there! He had often heard the old men in theworkhouse, too, say that no lad of spirit need want in London;and that there were ways of living in that vast city, which thosewho had been bred up in country parts had no idea of. It was thevery place for a homeless boy, who must die in the streets unlesssome one helped him. As these things passed through his thoughts,he jumped upon his feet, and again walked forward.

He had diminished the distance between himself and London by fullfour miles more, before he recollected how much he must undergoere he could hope to reach his place of destination. As thisconsideration forced itself upon him, he slackened his pace alittle, and meditated upon his means of getting there. He had acrust of bread, a coarse shirt, and two pairs of stockings, inhis bundle. He had a penny too--a gift of Sowerberry's aftersome funeral in which he had acquitted himself more thanordinarily well--in his pocket. 'A clean shirt,' thought Oliver,'is a very comfortable thing; and so are two pairs of darnedstockings; and so is a penny; but they small helps to asixty-five miles' walk in winter time.' But Oliver's thoughts,like those of most other people, although they were extremelyready and active to point out his difficulties, were wholly at aloss to suggest any feasible mode of surmounting them; so, aftera good deal of thinking to no particular purpose, he changed hislittle bundle over to the other shoulder, and trudged on.

Oliver walked twenty miles that day; and all that time tastednothing but the crust of dry bread, and a few draughts of water,which he begged at the cottage-doors by the road-side. When thenight came, he turned into a meadow; and, creeping close under ahay-rick, determined to lie there, till morning. He feltfrightened at first, for the wind moaned dismally over the emptyfields: and he was cold and hungry, and more alone than he hadever felt before. Being very tired with his walk, however, hesoon fell asleep and forgot his troubles.

He felt cold and stiff, when he got up next morning, and sohungry that he was obliged to exchange the penny for a smallloaf, in the very first village through which he passed. He hadwalked no more than twelve miles, when night closed in again. His feet were sore, and his legs so weak that they trembledbeneath him. Another night passed in the bleak damp air, madehim worse; when he set forward on his journey next morning hecould hardly crawl along.

He waited at the bottom of a steep hill till a stage-coach cameup, and then begged of the outside passengers; but there werevery few who took any notice of him: and even those told him towait till they got to the top of the hill, and then let them seehow far he could run for a halfpenny. Poor Oliver tried to keepup with the coach a little way, but was unable to do it, byreason of his fatigue and sore feet. When the outsides saw this,they put their halfpence back into their pockets again, declaringthat he was an idle young dog, and didn't deserve anything; andthe coach rattled away and left only a cloud of dust behind.

In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up: warning allpersons who begged within the district, that they would be sentto jail. This frightened Oliver very much, and made him glad toget out of those villages with all possible expedition. Inothers, he would stand about the inn-yards, and look mournfullyat every one who passed: a proceeding which generally terminatedin the landlady's ordering one of the post-boys who were loungingabout, to drive that strange boy out of the place, for she wassure he had come to steal something. If he begged at a farmer'shouse, ten to one but they threatened to set the dog on him; andwhen he showed his nose in a shop, they talked about thebeadle--which brought Oliver's heart into his mouth,--very oftenthe only thing he had there, for many hours together.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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