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CHAPTER VII

OLIVER CONTINUES REFRACTORY

Noah Claypole ran along the streets at his swiftest pace, and
paused not once for breath, until he reached the workhouse-gate.
Having rested here, for a minute or so, to collect a good burst
of sobs and an imposing show of tears and terror, he knocked
loudly at the wicket; and presented such a rueful face to the
aged pauper who opened it, that even he, who saw nothing but
rueful faces about him at the best of times, started back in
astonishment.

'Why, what's the matter with the boy!' said the old pauper.

'Mr. Bumble! Mr. Bumble!' cried Noah, wit well-affected dismay:
and in tones so loud and agitated, that they not only caught the
ear of Mr. Bumble himself, who happened to be hard by, but
alarmed him so much that he rushed into the yard without his
cocked hat, --which is a very curious and remarkable
circumstance: as showing that even a beadle, acted upon a sudden
and powerful impulse, may be afflicted with a momentary
visitation of loss of self-possession, and forgetfulness of
personal dignity.

'Oh, Mr. Bumble, sir!' said Noah: 'Oliver, sir, --Oliver has--'

'What? What?' interposed Mr. Bumble: with a gleam of pleasure
in his metallic eyes. 'Not run away; he hasn't run away, has he,
Noah?'

'No, sir, no. Not run away, sir, but he's turned wicious,'
replied Noah. 'He tried to murder me, sir; and then he tried to
murder Charlotte; and then missis. Oh! what dreadful pain it is!

Such agony, please, sir!' And here, Noah writhed and twisted his
body into an extensive variety of eel-like positions; thereby
giving Mr. Bumble to understand that, from the violent and
sanguinary onset of Oliver Twist, he had sustained severe
internal injury and damage, from which he was at that moment
suffering the acutest torture.

When Noah saw that the intelligence he communicated perfectly
paralysed Mr. Bumble, he imparted additional effect thereunto, by
bewailing his dreadful wounds ten times louder than before; and
when he observed a gentleman in a white waistcoat crossing the
yard, he was more tragic in his lamentations than ever: rightly
conceiving it highly expedient to attract the notice, and rouse
the indignation, of the gentleman aforesaid.

The gentleman's notice was very soon attracted; for he had not
walked three paces, when he turned angrily round, and inquired
what that young cur was howling for, and why Mr. Bumble did not
favour him with something which would render the series of
vocular exclamations so designated, an involuntary process?

'It's a poor boy from the free-school, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble,
'who has been nearly murdered--all but murdered, sir, --by young
Twist.'

'By Jove!' exclaimed the gentleman in the white waistcoat,
stopping short. 'I knew it! I felt a strange presentiment from
the very first, that that audacious young savage would come to be
hung!'

'He has likewise attempted, sir, to murder the female servant,'
said Mr. Bumble, with a face of ashy paleness.

'And his missis,' interposed Mr. Claypole.

'And his master, too, I think you said, Noah?' added Mr. Bumble.

'No! he's out, or he would have murdered him,' replied Noah. 'He
said he wanted to.'

'Ah! Said he wanted to, did he, my boy?' inquired the gentleman
in the white waistcoat.

'Yes, sir,' replied Noah. 'And please, sir, missis wants to know
whether Mr. Bumble can spare time to step up there, directly, and
flog him-- 'cause master's out.'

'Certainly, my boy; certainly,' said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat: smiling benignly, and patting Noah's head, which was
about three inches higher than his own. 'You're a good boy--a
very good boy. Here's a penny for you. Bumble, just step up to
Sowerberry's with your cane, and seed what's best to be done.
Don't spare him, Bumble.'

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

Here the position of affairs had not at all improved. Sowerberry
had not yet returned, and Oliver continued to kick, with
undiminished vigour, at the cellar-door. The accounts of his
ferocity as related by Mrs. Sowerberry and Charlotte, were of so
startling a nature, that Mr. Bumble judged it prudent to parley,
before opening the door. With this view he gave a kick at the
outside, by way of prelude; and, then, applying his mouth to the
keyhole, 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 I
speak, 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 a
little. He stepped back from the keyhole; drew himself up to his
full height; and looked from one to another of the three
bystanders, 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 few
moments 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 and
spirit in him, ma'am unbecoming a person of his condition: as the
board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell
you. What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It's quite
enough that we let 'em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy
on gruel, ma'am, this would never have happened.'

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

The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, had consisted of a
profuse bestowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends which
nobody else would eat; so there was a great deal of meekness and
self-devotion in her voluntarily remaining under Mr. Bumble's
heavy accusation. Of which, to do her justice, she was wholly
innocent, in thought, word, or deed.

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

At this point of Mr. Bumble's discourse, Oliver, just hearing
enough to know that some allusion was being made to his mother,
recommenced kicking, with a violence that rendered every other
sound inaudible. Sowerberry returned at this juncture. Oliver's
offence having been explained to him, with such exaggerations as
the ladies thought best calculated to rouse his ire, he unlocked
the cellar-door in a twinkling, and dragged his rebellious
apprentice 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 over
his forehead. The angry flush had not disappeared, however; and
when 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?' said
Mrs. 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 he
had hesitated for one instant to punish Oliver most severely, it
must be quite clear to every experienced reader that he would
have been, according to all precedents in disputes of matrimony
established, a brute, an unnatural husband, an insulting
creature, a base imitation of a man, and various other agreeable
characters too numerous for recital within the limits of this
chapter. To do him justice, he was, as far as his power went--it
was not very extensive--kindly disposed towards the boy; perhaps,
because it was his interest to be so; perhaps, because his wife
disliked 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 subsequent
application of the parochial cane, rather unnecessary. For the
rest of the day, he was shut up in the back kitchen, in company
with a pump and a slice of bread; and at night, Mrs. Sowerberry,
after making various remarks outside the door, by no means
complimentary 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 stillness
of the gloomy workshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to
the feelings which the day's treatment may be supposed likely to
have awakened in a mere child. He had listened to their taunts
with a look of contempt; he had borne the lash without a cry:
for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would have
kept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted him
alive. But now, when there were none to see or hear him, he fell
upon 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 so
young may ever have cause to pour out before him!

For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The
candle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet.
Having gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, he
gently 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; there
was no wind; and the sombre shadows thrown by the trees upon the
ground, looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still.
He softly reclosed the door. Having availed himself of the
expiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the few
articles of wearing apparel he had, sat himself down upon a
bench, to wait for morning.

With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevices
in the shutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door. One
timid look around--one moment's pause of hesitation--he had
closed 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, toiling
up the hill. He took the same route; and arriving at a footpath
across the fields: which he knew, after some distance, led out
again into the road; struck into it, and walked quickly on.

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

He reached the house. There was no appearance of its inmates
stirring at that early hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into the
garden. A child was weeding one of the little beds; as he
stopped, he raised his pale face and disclosed the features of
one of his former companions. Oliver felt glad to see him,
before he went; for, though younger than himself, he had been his
little 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 thrust
his 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 running
away. They beat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek my
fortune, some long way off. I don't know where. How pale you
are!'

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

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

'I hope so,' replied the child. 'After I am dead, but not
before. I know the doctor must be right, Oliver, because I dream
so much of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see
when I am awake. Kiss me,' said the child, climbing up the low
gate, 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 first
that Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the
struggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after
life, he never once forgot it.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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