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Chapter 27

  • 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.
  • Corney?'
  • 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.