Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 20)


'Whereas a young boy, named Oliver Twist, absconded, or wasenticed, on Thursday evening last, from his home, at Pentonville;and has not since been heard of. The above reward will be paidto any person who will give such information as will lead to thediscovery of the said Oliver Twist, or tend to throw any lightupon his previous history, in which the advertiser is, for manyreasons, warmly interested.'

And then followed a full description of Oliver's dress, person,appearance, and disappearance: with the name and address of Mr.Brownlow at full length.

Mr. Bumble opened his eyes; read the advertisement, slowly andcarefully, three several times; and in something more than fiveminutes was on his way to Pentonville: having actually, in hisexcitement, left the glass of hot gin-and-water, untasted.

'Is Mr. Brownlow at home?' inquired Mr. Bumble of the girl whoopened the door.

To this inquiry the girl returned the not uncommon, but ratherevasive reply of 'I don't know; where do you come from?'

Mr. Bumble no sooner uttered Oliver's name, in explanation of hiserrand, than Mrs. Bedwin, who had been listening at the parlourdoor, hastened into the passage in a breathless state.

'Come in, come in,' said the old lady: 'I knew we should hear ofhim. Poor dear! I knew we should! I was certain of it. Blesshis heart! I said so all along.'

Having heard this, the worthy old lady hurried back into theparlour again; and seating herself on a sofa, burst into tears. The girl, who was not quite so susceptible, had run upstairsmeanwhile; and now returned with a request that Mr. Bumble wouldfollow her immediately: which he did.

He was shown into the little back study, where sat Mr. Brownlowand his friend Mr. Grimwig, with decanters and glasses beforethem. The latter gentleman at once burst into the exclamation:

'A beadle. A parish beadle, or I'll eat my head.'

'Pray don't interrupt just now,' said Mr. Brownlow. 'Take aseat, will you?'

Mr. Bumble sat himself down; quite confounded by the oddity ofMr. Grimwig's manner. Mr. Brownlow moved the lamp, so as toobtain an uninterrupted view of the beadle's countenance; andsaid, with a little impatience,

'Now, sir, you come in consequence of having seen theadvertisement?'

'Yes, sir,' said Mr. Bumble.

'And you ARE a beadle, are you not?' inquired Mr. Grimwig.

'I am a porochial beadle, gentlemen,' rejoined Mr. Bumbleproudly.

'Of course,' observed Mr. Grimwig aside to his friend, 'I knew hewas. A beadle all over!'

Mr. Brownlow gently shook his head to impose silence on hisfriend, and resumed:

'Do you know where this poor boy is now?'

'No more than nobody,' replied Mr. Bumble.

'Well, what DO you know of him?' inquired the old gentleman.'Speak out, my friend, if you have anything to say. What DO youknow of him?'

'You don't happen to know any good of him, do you?' said Mr.Grimwig, caustically; after an attentive perusal of Mr. Bumble'sfeatures.

Mr. Bumble, catching at the inquiry very quickly, shook his headwith portentous solemnity.

'You see?' said Mr. Grimwig, looking triumphantly at Mr.Brownlow.

Mr. Brownlow looked apprehensively at Mr. Bumble's pursed-upcountenance; and requested him to communicate what he knewregarding Oliver, in as few words as possible.

Mr. Bumble put down his hat; unbuttoned his coat; folded hisarms; inclined his head in a retrospective manner; and, after afew moments' reflection, commenced his story.

It would be tedious if given in the beadle's words: occupying,as it did, some twenty minutes in the telling; but the sum andsubstance of it was, that Oliver was a foundling, born of low andvicious parents. That he had, from his birth, displayed nobetter qualities than treachery, ingratitude, and malice. Thathe had terminated his brief career in the place of his birth, bymaking a sanguinary and cowardly attack on an unoffending lad,and running away in the night-time from his master's house. Inproof of his really being the person he represented himself, Mr.Bumble laid upon the table the papers he had brought to town. Folding his arms again, he then awaited Mr. Brownlow'sobservations.

'I fear it is all too true,' said the old gentleman sorrowfully,after looking over the papers. 'This is not much for yourintelligence; but I would gladly have given you treble the money,if it had been favourable to the boy.'

It is not improbable that if Mr. Bumble had been possessed ofthis information at an earlier period of the interview, he mighthave imparted a very different colouring to his little history. It was too late to do it now, however; so he shook his headgravely, and, pocketing the five guineas, withdrew.

Mr. Brownlow paced the room to and fro for some minutes;evidently so much disturbed by the beadle's tale, that even Mr.Grimwig forbore to vex him further.

At length he stopped, and rang the bell violently.

'Mrs. Bedwin,' said Mr. Brownlow, when the housekeeper appeared;'that boy, Oliver, is an imposter.'

'It can't be, sir. It cannot be,' said the old ladyenergetically.

'I tell you he is,' retorted the old gentleman. 'What do youmean by can't be? We have just heard a full account of him fromhis birth; and he has been a thorough-paced little villain, allhis life.'

'I never will believe it, sir,' replied the old lady, firmly.'Never!'

'You old women never believe anything but quack-doctors, andlying story-books,' growled Mr. Grimwig. 'I knew it all along. Why didn't you take my advise in the beginning; you would if hehadn't had a fever, I suppose, eh? He was interesting, wasn'the? Interesting! Bah!' And Mr. Grimwig poked the fire with aflourish.

'He was a dear, grateful, gentle child, sir,' retorted Mrs.Bedwin, indignantly. 'I know what children are, sir; and havedone these forty years; and people who can't say the same,shouldn't say anything about them. That's my opinion!'

This was a hard hit at Mr. Grimwig, who was a bachelor. As itextorted nothing from that gentleman but a smile, the old ladytossed her head, and smoothed down her apron preparatory toanother speech, when she was stopped by Mr. Brownlow.

'Silence!' said the old gentleman, feigning an anger he was farfrom feeling. 'Never let me hear the boy's name again. I rangto tell you that. Never. Never, on any pretence, mind! You mayleave the room, Mrs. Bedwin. Remember! I am in earnest.'

There were sad hearts at Mr. Brownlow's that night.

Oliver's heart sank within him, when he thought of his goodfriends; it was well for him that he could not know what they hadheard, or it might have broken outright.



About noon next day, when the Dodger and Master Bates had goneout to pursue their customary avocations, Mr. Fagin took theopportunity of reading Oliver a long lecture on the crying sin ofingratitude; of which he clearly demonstrated he had been guilty,to no ordinary extent, in wilfully absenting himself from thesociety of his anxious friends; and, still more, in endeavouringto escape from them after so much trouble and expense had beenincurred in his recovery. Mr. Fagin laid great stress on the factof his having taken Oliver in, and cherished him, when, withouthis timely aid, he might have perished with hunger; and herelated the dismal and affecting history of a young lad whom, inhis philanthropy, he had succoured under parallel circumstances,but who, proving unworthy of his confidence and evincing a desireto communicate with the police, had unfortunately come to behanged at the Old Bailey one morning. Mr. Fagin did not seek toconceal his share in the catastrophe, but lamented with tears inhis eyes that the wrong-headed and treacherous behaviour of theyoung person in question, had rendered it necessary that heshould become the victim of certain evidence for the crown:which, if it were not precisely true, was indispensably necessaryfor the safety of him (Mr. Fagin) and a few select friends. Mr.Fagin concluded by drawing a rather disagreeable picture of thediscomforts of hanging; and, with great friendliness andpoliteness of manner, expressed his anxious hopes that he mightnever be obliged to submit Oliver Twist to that unpleasantoperation.

Little Oliver's blood ran cold, as he listened to the Jew'swords, and imperfectly comprehended the dark threats conveyed inthem. That it was possible even for justice itself to confoundthe innocent with the guilty when they were in accidentalcompanionship, he knew already; and that deeply-laid plans forthe destruction of inconveniently knowing or over-communicativepersons, had been really devised and carried out by the Jew onmore occasions than one, he thought by no means unlikely, when herecollected the general nature of the altercations between thatgentleman and Mr. Sikes: which seemed to bear reference to someforegone conspiracy of the kind. As he glanced timidly up, andmet the Jew's searching look, he felt that his pale face andtrembling limbs were neither unnoticed nor unrelished by thatwary old gentleman.

The Jew, smiling hideously, patted Oliver on the head, and said,that if he kept himself quiet, and applied himself to business,he saw they would be very good friends yet. Then, taking hishat, and covering himself with an old patched great-coat, he wentout, and locked the room-door behind him.

And so Oliver remained all that day, and for the greater part ofmany subsequent days, seeing nobody, between early morning andmidnight, and left during the long hours to commune with his ownthoughts. Which, never failing to revert to his kind friends,and the opinion they must long ago have formed of him, were sadindeed.

After the lapse of a week or so, the Jew left the room-doorunlocked; and he was at liberty to wander about the house.

It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great highwooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls andcornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black withneglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways. From all ofthese tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before theold Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and hadperhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as itlooked now.

Spiders had built their webs in the angles of the walls andceilings; and sometimes, when Oliver walked softly into a room,the mice would scamper across the floor, and run back terrifiedto their holes. With these exceptions, there was neither sightnor sound of any living thing; and often, when it grew dark, andhe was tired of wandering from room to room, he would crouch inthe corner of the passage by the street-door, to be as nearliving people as he could; and would remain there, listening andcounting the hours, until the Jew or the boys returned.

In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters were fast closed: thebars which held them were screwed tight into the wood; the onlylight which was admitted, stealing its way through round holes atthe top: which made the rooms more gloomy, and filled them withstrange shadows. There was a back-garret window with rusty barsoutside, which had no shutter; and out of this, Oliver oftengazed with a melancholy face for hours together; but nothing wasto be descried from it but a confused and crowded mass ofhousetops, blackened chimneys, and gable-ends. Sometimes,indeed, a grizzly head might be seen, peering over theparapet-wall of a distant house; but it was quickly withdrawnagain; and as the window of Oliver's observatory was nailed down,and dimmed with the rain and smoke of years, it was as much as hecould do to make out the forms of the different objects beyond,without making any attempt to be seen or heard,--which he had asmuch chance of being, as if he had lived inside the ball of St.Paul's Cathedral.

One afternoon, the Dodger and Master Bates being engaged out thatevening, the first-named young gentleman took it into his head toevince some anxiety regarding the decoration of his person (to dohim justice, this was by no means an habitual weakness with him);and, with this end and aim, he condescendingly commanded Oliverto assist him in his toilet, straightway.

Oliver was but too glad to make himself useful; too happy to havesome faces, however bad, to look upon; too desirous to conciliatethose about him when he could honestly do so; to throw anyobjection in the way of this proposal. So he at once expressedhis readiness; and, kneeling on the floor, while the Dodger satupon the table so that he could take his foot in his laps, heapplied himself to a process which Mr. Dawkins designated as'japanning his trotter-cases.' The phrase, rendered into plainEnglish, signifieth, cleaning his boots.

Whether it was the sense of freedom and independence which arational animal may be supposed to feel when he sits on a tablein an easy attitude smoking a pipe, swinging one leg carelesslyto and fro, and having his boots cleaned all the time, withouteven the past trouble of having taken them off, or theprospective misery of putting them on, to disturb hisreflections; or whether it was the goodness of the tobacco thatsoothed the feelings of the Dodger, or the mildness of the beerthat mollified his thoughts; he was evidently tinctured, for thenonce, with a spice of romance and enthusiasm, foreign to hisgeneral nature. He looked down on Oliver, with a thoughtfulcountenance, for a brief space; and then, raising his head, andheaving a gentle sign, said, half in abstraction, and half toMaster Bates:

'What a pity it is he isn't a prig!'

'Ah!' said Master Charles Bates; 'he don't know what's good forhim.'

The Dodger sighed again, and resumed his pipe: as did CharleyBates. They both smoked, for some seconds, in silence.

'I suppose you don't even know what a prig is?' said the Dodgermournfully.

'I think I know that,' replied Oliver, looking up. 'It's athe--; you're one, are you not?' inquired Oliver, checkinghimself.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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