The parish boy\

The parish boy's progress

НазваниеThe parish boy's progress
Дата конвертации19.09.2012
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Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many

reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to

which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently

common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and

in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not

trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible

consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all

events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head

of this chapter.

For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow

and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of

considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any

name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that

these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that

being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have

possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and

faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any

age or country.

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a

workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable

circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to

say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for

Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact

is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to

take upon himself the office of respiration,--a troublesome

practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy

existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock

mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the

next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now,

if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by

careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and

doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and

indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by,

however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by

an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such

matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point

between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles,

Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the

inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been

imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could

reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been

possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much

longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.

As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of

his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over

the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was

raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly

articulated the words, 'Let me see the child, and die.'

The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the

fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub

alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to

the bed's head, said, with more kindness than might have been

expected of him:

'Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.'

'Lor bless her dear heart, no!' interposed the nurse, hastily

depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of

which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.

'Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have,

sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on 'em dead

except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she'll know better

than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it

is to be a mother, there's a dear young lamb do.'

Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother's prospects

failed in producing its due effect. The patient shook her head,

and stretched out her hand towards the child.

The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold

white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over

her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back--and died.

They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had

stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been

strangers too long.

'It's all over, Mrs. Thingummy!' said the surgeon at last.

'Ah, poor dear, so it is!' said the nurse, picking up the cork of

the green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she

stooped to take up the child. 'Poor dear!'

'You needn't mind sending up to me, if the child cries, nurse,'

said the surgeon, putting on his gloves with great deliberation.

'It's very likely it _will_ be troublesome. Give it a little gruel

if it is.' He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on

his way to the door, added, 'She was a good-looking girl, too;

where did she come from?'

'She was brought here last night,' replied the old woman, 'by the

overseer's order. She was found lying in the street. She had

walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but

where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.'

The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand. 'The

old story,' he said, shaking his head: 'no wedding-ring, I see.

Ah! Good-night!'

The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse,

having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on

a low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant.

What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver

Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his

only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a

beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to

have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he

was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in

the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his

place at once--a parish child--the orphan of a workhouse--the

humble, half-starved drudge--to be cuffed and buffeted through

the world--despised by all, and pitied by none.

Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an

orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and

overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.



For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a

systematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up

by hand. The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan

was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish

authorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the

workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled

in 'the house' who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist,

the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need. The

workhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not.

Upon this, the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely

resolved, that Oliver should be 'farmed,' or, in other words,

that he should be dispatched to a branch-workhouse some three

miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders

against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without

the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under

the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received

the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny

per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny's worth per week

is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for

sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and

make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom

and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had

a very accurate perception of what was good for herself. So, she

appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own

use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a

shorter allowance than was originally provided for them. Thereby

finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself a

very great experimental philosopher.

Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who

had a great theory about a horse being able to live without

eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he had got his own

horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have

rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at

all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to

have had his first comfortable bait of air. Unfortunately for,

the experimental philosophy of the female to whose protecting care

Oliver Twist was delivered over, a similar result usually

attended the operation of _her_ system; for at the very moment when

the child had contrived to exist upon the smallest possible

portion of the weakest possible food, it did perversely happen in

eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from

want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got

half-smothered by accident; in any one of which cases, the

miserable little being was usually summoned into another world,

and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this.

Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interesting

inquest upon a parish child who had been overlooked in turning up

a bedstead, or inadvertently scalded to death when there happened

to be a washing--though the latter accident was very scarce,

anything approaching to a washing being of rare occurrence in the

farm--the jury would take it into their heads to ask troublesome

questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously affix their

signatures to a remonstrance. But these impertinences were

speedily checked by the evidence of the surgeon, and the

testimony of the beadle; the former of whom had always opened the

body and found nothing inside (which was very probable indeed),

and the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish

wanted; which was very self-devotional. Besides, the board made

periodical pilgrimages to the farm, and always sent the beadle

the day before, to say they were going. The children were neat

and clean to behold, when _they_ went; and what more would the

people have!

It cannot be expected that this system of farming would produce

any very extraordinary or luxuriant crop. Oliver Twist's ninth

birthday found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in

stature, and decidedly small in circumference. But nature or

inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's

breast. It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare

diet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may

be attributed his having any ninth birth-day at all. Be this as

it may, however, it was his ninth birthday; and he was keeping it

in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young

gentleman, who, after participating with him in a sound

thrashing, had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be

hungry, when Mrs. Mann, the good lady of the house, was

unexpectedly startled by the apparition of Mr. Bumble, the

beadle, striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate.

'Goodness gracious! Is that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?' said Mrs.

Mann, thrusting her head out of the window in well-affected

ecstasies of joy. '(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats

upstairs, and wash 'em directly.)--My heart alive! Mr. Bumble,

how glad I am to see you, sure-ly!'

Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead of

responding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit,

he gave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed

upon it a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a


'Lor, only think,' said Mrs. Mann, running out,--for the three

boys had been removed by this time,--'only think of that! That I

should have forgotten that the gate was bolted on the inside, on

account of them dear children! Walk in sir; walk in, pray, Mr.

Bumble, do, sir.'

Although this invitation was accompanied with a curtsey that

might have softened the heart of a church-warden, it by no means

mollified the beadle.

'Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,'

inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, 'to keep the parish

officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon

porochial business with the porochial orphans? Are you aweer,

Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and

a stipendiary?'

'I'm sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two of the

dear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,'

replied Mrs. Mann with great humility.

Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his

importance. He had displayed the one, and vindicated the other.

He relaxed.

'Well, well, Mrs. Mann,' he replied in a calmer tone; 'it may be

as you say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come on

business, and have something to say.'

Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brick

floor; placed a seat for him; and officiously deposited his

cocked hat and cane on the table before him. Mr. Bumble wiped

from his forehead the perspiration which his walk had engendered,

glanced complacently at the cocked hat, and smiled. Yes, he

smiled. Beadles are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.

'Now don't you be offended at what I'm a going to say,' observed

Mrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness. 'You've had a long walk,

you know, or I wouldn't mention it. Now, will you take a little

drop of somethink, Mr. Bumble?'

'Not a drop. Nor a drop,' said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand

in a dignified, but placid manner.

'I think you will,' said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of

the refusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it. 'Just a

leetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.'

Mr. Bumble coughed.

'Now, just a leetle drop,' said Mrs. Mann persuasively.

'What is it?' inquired the beadle.

'Why, it's what I'm obliged to keep a little of in the house, to

put into the blessed infants' Daffy, when they ain't well, Mr.

Bumble,' replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and

took down a bottle and glass. 'It's gin. I'll not deceive you,

Mr. B. It's gin.'

'Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?' inquired Bumble,

following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing.

'Ah, bless 'em, that I do, dear as it is,' replied the nurse. 'I

couldn't see 'em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.'

'No'; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; 'no, you could not. You are a

humane woman, Mrs. Mann.' (Here she set down the glass.) 'I

shall 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 your

health with cheerfulness, Mrs. Mann'; and he swallowed half of


'And now about business,' said the beadle, taking out a leathern

pocket-book. 'The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, is

nine year old to-day.'

'Bless him!' interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with

the corner of her apron.

'And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was

afterwards increased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most

superlative, and, I may say, supernat'ral exertions on the part

of this parish,' said Bumble, 'we have never been able to

discover 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 a

moment's reflection, 'How comes he to have any name at all,


The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'I

inwented it.'

'You, Mr. Bumble!'

'I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The

last was a S,--Swubble, I named him. This was a T,--Twist, I

named _him_. The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next

Vilkins. 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 the

compliment; 'perhaps I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.' He

finished the gin-and-water, and added, 'Oliver being now too old

to remain here, the board have determined to have him back into

the house. I have come out myself to take him there. So let me

see him at once.'

'I'll fetch him directly,' said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room for

that purpose. Oliver, having had by this time as much of the

outer coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed,

as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by

his benevolent protectress.

'Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,' said Mrs. Mann.

Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on the

chair, and the cocked hat on the table.

'Will you go along with me, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble, in a

majestic voice.

Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with

great readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs.

Mann, who had got behind the beadle's chair, and was shaking her

fist at him with a furious countenance. He took the hint at

once, for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body not

to 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 see

you sometimes.'

This was no very great consolation to the child. Young as he

was, however, he had sense enough to make a feint of feeling

great regret at going away. It was no very difficult matter for

the boy to call tears into his eyes. Hunger and recent ill-usage

are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very

naturally indeed. Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and

what Oliver wanted a great deal more, a piece of bread and

butter, less he should seem too hungry when he got to the

workhouse. With the slice of bread in his hand, and the little

brown-cloth parish cap on his head, Oliver was then led away by

Mr. Bumble from the wretched home where one kind word or look had

never lighted the gloom of his infant years. And yet he burst

into an agony of childish grief, as the cottage-gate closed after

him. Wretched as were the little companions in misery he was

leaving behind, they were the only friends he had ever known; and

a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world, sank into the

child's heart for the first time.

Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmly
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