As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep so mighty _ersonage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire, and the skirts o_is coat gathered up under his arms, until such time as it might suit hi_leasure to relieve him; and as it would still less become his station, or hi_allantry to involve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looke_ith an eye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had whispere_weet words, which, coming from such a quarter, might well thrill the bosom o_aid or matron of whatsoever degree; the historian whose pen traces thes_ords—trusting that he knows his place, and that he entertains a becomin_everence for those upon earth to whom high and important authority i_elegated—hastens to pay them that respect which their position demands, an_o treat them with all that duteous ceremony which their exalted rank, and (b_onsequence) great virtues, imperatively claim at his hands. Towards this end, indeed, he had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation touchin_he divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the position, that a beadl_an do no wrong: which could not fail to have been both pleasurable an_rofitable to the right-minded reader but which he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and space, to postpone to some more convenient and fittin_pportunity; on the arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that _eadle properly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle, attached to _arochail workhouse, and attending in his official capacity the parochia_hurch: is, in right and virtue of his office, possessed of all th_xcellences and best qualities of humanity; and that to none of thos_xcellences, can mere companies' beadles, or court-of-law beadles, or eve_hapel-of-ease beadles (save the last, and they in a very lowly and inferio_egree), lay the remotest sustainable claim.
Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed the sugar-tongs, made _loser inspection of the milk-pot, and ascertained to a nicety the exac_ondition of the furniture, down to the very horse-hair seats of the chairs; and had repeated each process full half a dozen times; before he began t_hink that it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begets thinking; a_here were no sounds of Mrs. Corney's approach, it occured to Mr. Bumble tha_t would be an innocent and virtuous way of spending the time, if he wer_urther to allay his curiousity by a cursory glance at the interior of Mrs.
Corney's chest of drawers.
Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody was approachin_he chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom, proceeded to make himsel_cquainted with the contents of the three long drawers: which, being fille_ith various garments of good fashion and texture, carefully preserved betwee_wo layers of old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yiel_im exceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at the right-han_orner drawer (in which was the key), and beholding therein a small padlocke_ox, which, being shaken, gave forth a pleasant sound, as of the chinking o_oin, Mr. Bumble returned with a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resumin_is old attitude, said, with a grave and determined air, 'I'll do it!' H_ollowed up this remarkable declaration, by shaking his head in a waggis_anner for ten minutes, as though he were remonstrating with himself for bein_uch a pleasant dog; and then, he took a view of his legs in profile, wit_uch seeming pleasure and interest.
He was still placidly engaged in this latter survey, when Mrs. Corney, hurrying into the room, threw herself, in a breathless state, on a chair b_he fireside, and covering her eyes with one hand, placed the other over he_eart, and gasped for breath.
'Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble, stooping over the matron, 'what is this, ma'am? Has anything happened, ma'am? Pray answer me: I'm on—on—' Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, could not immediately think of the word 'tenterhooks,' so h_aid 'broken bottles.'
'Oh, Mr. Bumble!' cried the lady, 'I have been so dreadfully put out!'
'Put out, ma'am!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble; 'who has dared to—? I know!' said Mr.
Bumble, checking himself, with native majesty, 'this is them wicious paupers!'
'It's dreadful to think of!' said the lady, shuddering.
'Then _don't_ think of it, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble.
'I can't help it,' whimpered the lady.
'Then take something, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble soothingly. 'A little of th_ine?'
'Not for the world!' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I couldn't,—oh! The top shelf i_he right-hand corner—oh!' Uttering these words, the good lady pointed, distractedly, to the cupboard, and underwent a convulsion from interna_pasms. Mr. Bumble rushed to the closet; and, snatching a pint green-glas_ottle from the shelf thus incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with it_ontents, and held it to the lady's lips.
'I'm better now,' said Mrs. Corney, falling back, after drinking half of it.
Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously to the ceiling in thankfulness; and, bringing them down again to the brim of the cup, lifted it to his nose.
'Peppermint,' exclaimed Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smiling gently on th_eadle as she spoke. 'Try it! There's a little—a little something else in it.'
Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with a doubtful look; smacked his lips; too_nother taste; and put the cup down empty.
'It's very comforting,' said Mrs. Corney.
'Very much so indeed, ma'am,' said the beadle. As he spoke, he drew a chai_eside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had happened to distress her.
'Nothing,' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I am a foolish, excitable, weak creetur.'
'Not weak, ma'am,' retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair a little closer.
'Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?'
'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mrs. Corney, laying down a general principle.
'So we are,' said the beadle.
Nothing was said on either side, for a minute or two afterwards. By th_xpiration of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the position by removin_is left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney's chair, where it had previousl_ested, to Mrs. Corney's apron-string, round which it gradually becam_ntwined.
'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mr. Bumble.
Mrs. Corney sighed.
'Don't sigh, Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble.
'I can't help it,' said Mrs. Corney. And she sighed again.
'This is a very comfortable room, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble looking round.
'Another room, and this, ma'am, would be a complete thing.'
'It would be too much for one,' murmured the lady.
'But not for two, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble, in soft accents. 'Eh, Mrs.
Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when the beadle said this; the beadle droope_is, to get a view of Mrs. Corney's face. Mrs. Corney, with great propriety, turned her head away, and released her hand to get at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.
'The board allows you coals, don't they, Mrs. Corney?' inquired the beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.
'And candles,' replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the pressure.
'Coals, candles, and house-rent free,' said Mr. Bumble. 'Oh, Mrs. Corney, wha_n Angel you are!'
The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank into Mr.
Bumble's arms; and that gentleman in his agitation, imprinted a passionat_iss upon her chaste nose.
'Such porochial perfection!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously. 'You know tha_r. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?'
'Yes,' replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.
'He can't live a week, the doctor says,' pursued Mr. Bumble. 'He is the maste_f this establishment; his death will cause a wacancy; that wacancy must b_illed up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a prospect this opens! What a opportunity fo_ jining of hearts and housekeepings!'
Mrs. Corney sobbed.
'The little word?' said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful beauty. 'The on_ittle, little, little word, my blessed Corney?'
'Ye—ye—yes!' sighed out the matron.
'One more,' pursued the beadle; 'compose your darling feelings for only on_ore. When is it to come off?'
Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length summoning u_ourage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble's neck, and said, it might be a_oon as ever he pleased, and that he was 'a irresistible duck.'
Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the contract wa_olemnly ratified in another teacupful of the peppermint mixture; which wa_endered the more necessary, by the flutter and agitation of the lady'_pirits. While it was being disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with th_ld woman's decease.
'Very good,' said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint; 'I'll call a_owerberry's as I go home, and tell him to send to-morrow morning. Was it tha_s frightened you, love?'
'It wasn't anything particular, dear,' said the lady evasively.
'It must have been something, love,' urged Mr. Bumble. 'Won't you tell you_wn B.?'
'Not now,' rejoined the lady; 'one of these days. After we're married, dear.'
'After we're married!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble. 'It wasn't any impudence from an_f them male paupers as—'
'No, no, love!' interposed the lady, hastily.
'If I thought it was,' continued Mr. Bumble; 'if I thought as any one of 'e_ad dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovely countenance—'
'They wouldn't have dared to do it, love,' responded the lady.
'They had better not!' said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. 'Let me see an_an, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to do it; and I can tel_im that he wouldn't do it a second time!'
Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have seemed no ver_igh compliment to the lady's charms; but, as Mr. Bumble accompanied th_hreat with many warlike gestures, she was much touched with this proof of hi_evotion, and protested, with great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.
The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked hat; and, having exchanged a long and affectionate embrace with his future partner, onc_gain braved the cold wind of the night: merely pausing, for a few minutes, i_he male paupers' ward, to abuse them a little, with the view of satisfyin_imself that he could fill the office of workhouse-master with needfu_cerbity. Assured of his qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with _ight heart, and bright visions of his future promotion: which served t_ccupy his mind until he reached the shop of the undertaker.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper: and Noa_laypole not being at any time disposed to take upon himself a greater amoun_f physical exertion than is necessary to a convenient performance of the tw_unctions of eating and drinking, the shop was not closed, although it wa_ast the usual hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on th_ounter several times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding a ligh_hining through the glass-window of the little parlour at the back of th_hop, he made bold to peep in and see what was going forward; and when he sa_hat was going forward, he was not a little surprised.
The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread and butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the upper end of th_able, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently in an easy-chair, with his leg_hrown over one of the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass o_uttered bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening oyster_rom a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow, with remarkabl_vidity. A more than ordinary redness in the region of the young gentleman'_ose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted that he was in _light degree intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relis_ith which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong appreciation o_heir cooling properties, in cases of internal fever, could have sufficientl_ccounted.
'Here's a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!' said Charlotte; 'try him, do; onl_his one.'
'What a delicious thing is a oyster!' remarked Mr. Claypole, after he ha_wallowed it. 'What a pity it is, a number of 'em should ever make you fee_ncomfortable; isn't it, Charlotte?'
'It's quite a cruelty,' said Charlotte.
'So it is,' acquiesced Mr. Claypole. 'An't yer fond of oysters?'
'Not overmuch,' replied Charlotte. 'I like to see you eat 'em, Noah dear, better than eating 'em myself.'
'Lor!' said Noah, reflectively; 'how queer!'
'Have another,' said Charlotte. 'Here's one with such a beautiful, delicat_eard!'
'I can't manage any more,' said Noah. 'I'm very sorry. Come here, Charlotte, and I'll kiss yer.'
'What!' said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. 'Say that again, sir.'
Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr. Claypole, without making any further change in his position than suffering his legs t_each the ground, gazed at the beadle in drunken terror.
'Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!' said Mr. Bumble. 'How dare yo_ention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage him, you insolent minx?
Kiss her!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strong indignation. 'Faugh!'
'I didn't mean to do it!' said Noah, blubbering. 'She's always a-kissing o_e, whether I like it, or not.'
'Oh, Noah,' cried Charlotte, reproachfully.
'Yer are; yer know yer are!' retorted Noah. 'She's always a-doin' of it, Mr.
Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin, please, sir; and makes all manne_f love!'
'Silence!' cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. 'Take yourself downstairs, ma'am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till your master comes home, at you_eril; and, when he does come home, tell him that Mr. Bumble said he was t_end a old woman's shell after breakfast to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir?
Kissing!' cried Mr. Bumble, holding up his hands. 'The sin and wickedness o_he lower orders in this porochial district is frightful! If Parliament don'_ake their abominable courses under consideration, this country's ruined, an_he character of the peasantry gone for ever!' With these words, the beadl_trode, with a lofty and gloomy air, from the undertaker's premises.
And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and have mad_ll necessary preparations for the old woman's funeral, let us set on foot _ew inquires after young Oliver Twist, and ascertain whether he be still lyin_n the ditch where Toby Crackit left him.