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Chapter 5

  • Oliver, being left to himself in the undertaker's shop, set the lamp down on _orkman's bench, and gazed timidly about him with a feeling of awe and dread, which many people a good deal older than he will be at no loss to understand.
  • An unfinished coffin on black tressels, which stood in the middle of the shop, looked so gloomy and death-like that a cold tremble came over him, every tim_is eyes wandered in the direction of the dismal object: from which he almos_xpected to see some frightful form slowly rear its head, to drive him ma_ith terror. Against the wall were ranged, in regular array, a long row of el_oards cut in the same shape: looking in the dim light, like high-shouldere_hosts with their hands in their breeches pockets. Coffin-plates, elm-chips, bright-headed nails, and shreds of black cloth, lay scattered on the floor; and the wall behind the counter was ornamented with a lively representation o_wo mutes in very stiff neckcloths, on duty at a large private door, with _earse drawn by four black steeds, approaching in the distance. The shop wa_lose and hot. The atmosphere seemed tainted with the smell of coffins. Th_ecess beneath the counter in which his flock mattress was thrust, looked lik_ grave.
  • Nor were these the only dismal feelings which depressed Oliver. He was alon_n a strange place; and we all know how chilled and desolate the best of u_ill sometimes feel in such a situation. The boy had no friends to care for, or to care for him. The regret of no recent separation was fresh in his mind; the absence of no loved and well-remembered face sank heavily into his heart.
  • But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept into hi_arrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be lain in a calm an_asting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the tall grass waving gentl_bove his head, and the sound of the old deep bell to soothe him in his sleep.
  • Oliver was awakened in the morning, by a loud kicking at the outside of th_hop-door: which, before he could huddle on his clothes, was repeated, in a_ngry and impetuous manner, about twenty-five times. When he began to undo th_hain, the legs desisted, and a voice began.
  • 'Open the door, will yer?' cried the voice which belonged to the legs whic_ad kicked at the door.
  • 'I will, directly, sir,' replied Oliver: undoing the chain, and turning th_ey.
  • 'I suppose yer the new boy, ain't yer?' said the voice through the key-hole.
  • 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver.
  • 'How old are yer?' inquired the voice.
  • 'Ten, sir,' replied Oliver.
  • 'Then I'll whop yer when I get in,' said the voice; 'you just see if I don't, that's all, my work'us brat!' and having made this obliging promise, the voic_egan to whistle.
  • Oliver had been too often subjected to the process to which the ver_xpressive monosyllable just recorded bears reference, to entertain th_mallest doubt that the owner of the voice, whoever he might be, would redee_is pledge, most honourably. He drew back the bolts with a trembling hand, an_pened the door.
  • For a second or two, Oliver glanced up the street, and down the street, an_ver the way: impressed with the belief that the unknown, who had addresse_im through the key-hole, had walked a few paces off, to warm himself; fo_obody did he see but a big charity-boy, sitting on a post in front of th_ouse, eating a slice of bread and butter: which he cut into wedges, the siz_f his mouth, with a clasp-knife, and then consumed with great dexterity.
  • 'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Oliver at length: seeing that no other visito_ade his appearance; 'did you knock?'
  • 'I kicked,' replied the charity-boy.
  • 'Did you want a coffin, sir?' inquired Oliver, innocently.
  • At this, the charity-boy looked monstrous fierce; and said that Oliver woul_ant one before long, if he cut jokes with his superiors in that way.
  • 'Yer don't know who I am, I suppose, Work'us?' said the charity-boy, i_ontinuation: descending from the top of the post, meanwhile, with edifyin_ravity.
  • 'No, sir,' rejoined Oliver.
  • 'I'm Mister Noah Claypole,' said the charity-boy, 'and you're under me. Tak_own the shutters, yer idle young ruffian!' With this, Mr. Claypol_dministered a kick to Oliver, and entered the shop with a dignified air, which did him great credit. It is difficult for a large-headed, small-eye_outh, of lumbering make and heavy countenance, to look dignified under an_ircumstances; but it is more especially so, when superadded to these persona_ttractions are a red nose and yellow smalls.
  • Oliver, having taken down the shutters, and broken a pane of glass in hi_ffort to stagger away beneath the weight of the first one to a small court a_he side of the house in which they were kept during the day, was graciousl_ssisted by Noah: who having consoled him with the assurance that 'he'd catc_t,' condescended to help him. Mr. Sowerberry came down soon after. Shortl_fterwards, Mrs. Sowerberry appeared. Oliver having 'caught it,' in fulfilmen_f Noah's prediction, followed that young gentleman down the stairs t_reakfast.
  • 'Come near the fire, Noah,' said Charlotte. 'I saved a nice little bit o_acon for you from master's breakfast. Oliver, shut that door at Mister Noah'_ack, and take them bits that I've put out on the cover of the bread-pan.
  • There's your tea; take it away to that box, and drink it there, and mak_aste, for they'll want you to mind the shop. D'ye hear?'
  • 'D'ye hear, Work'us?' said Noah Claypole.
  • 'Lor, Noah!' said Charlotte, 'what a rum creature you are! Why don't you le_he boy alone?'
  • 'Let him alone!' said Noah. 'Why everybody lets him alone enough, for th_atter of that. Neither his father nor his mother will ever interfere wit_im. All his relations let him have his own way pretty well. Eh, Charlotte?
  • He! he! he!'
  • 'Oh, you queer soul!' said Charlotte, bursting into a hearty laugh, in whic_he was joined by Noah; after which they both looked scornfully at poor Olive_wist, as he sat shivering on the box in the coldest corner of the room, an_te the stale pieces which had been specially reserved for him.
  • Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No chance-child was he, for he could trace his genealogy all the way back to his parents, who live_ard by; his mother being a washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier, discharged with a wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny an_n unstateable fraction. The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been i_he habit of branding Noah in the public streets, with the ignominiou_pithets of 'leathers,' 'charity,' and the like; and Noah had bourne the_ithout reply. But, now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, a_hom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him wit_nterest. This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what _eautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the sam_miable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity- boy.
  • Oliver had been sojourning at the undertaker's some three weeks or a month.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry—the shop being shut up—were taking their supper in th_ittle back-parlour, when Mr. Sowerberry, after several deferential glances a_is wife, said,
  • 'My dear—' He was going to say more; but, Mrs. Sowerberry looking up, with _eculiarly unpropitious aspect, he stopped short.
  • 'Well,' said Mrs. Sowerberry, sharply.
  • 'Nothing, my dear, nothing,' said Mr. Sowerberry.
  • 'Ugh, you brute!' said Mrs. Sowerberry.
  • 'Not at all, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry humbly. 'I thought you didn't wan_o hear, my dear. I was only going to say—'
  • 'Oh, don't tell me what you were going to say,' interposed Mrs. Sowerberry. '_m nobody; don't consult me, pray. _I_ don't want to intrude upon you_ecrets.' As Mrs. Sowerberry said this, she gave an hysterical laugh, whic_hreatened violent consequences.
  • 'But, my dear,' said Sowerberry, 'I want to ask your advice.'
  • 'No, no, don't ask mine,' replied Mrs. Sowerberry, in an affecting manner:
  • 'ask somebody else's.' Here, there was another hysterical laugh, whic_rightened Mr. Sowerberry very much. This is a very common and much-approve_atrimonial course of treatment, which is often very effective. It at onc_educed Mr. Sowerberry to begging, as a special favour, to be allowed to sa_hat Mrs. Sowerberry was most curious to hear. After a short duration, th_ermission was most graciously conceded.
  • 'It's only about young Twist, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry. 'A very good- looking boy, that, my dear.'
  • 'He need be, for he eats enough,' observed the lady.
  • 'There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear,' resumed Mr.
  • Sowerberry, 'which is very interesting. He would make a delightful mute, m_ove.'
  • Mrs. Sowerberry looked up with an expression of considerable wonderment. Mr.
  • Sowerberry remarked it and, without allowing time for any observation on th_ood lady's part, proceeded.
  • 'I don't mean a regular mute to attend grown-up people, my dear, but only fo_hildren's practice. It would be very new to have a mute in proportion, m_ear. You may depend upon it, it would have a superb effect.'
  • Mrs. Sowerberry, who had a good deal of taste in the undertaking way, was muc_truck by the novelty of this idea; but, as it would have been compromisin_er dignity to have said so, under existing circumstances, she merel_nquired, with much sharpness, why such an obvious suggestion had no_resented itself to her husband's mind before? Mr. Sowerberry rightl_onstrued this, as an acquiescence in his proposition; it was speedil_etermined, therefore, that Oliver should be at once initiated into th_ysteries of the trade; and, with this view, that he should accompany hi_aster on the very next occasion of his services being required.
  • The occasion was not long in coming. Half an hour after breakfast nex_orning, Mr. Bumble entered the shop; and supporting his cane against th_ounter, drew forth his large leathern pocket-book: from which he selected _mall scrap of paper, which he handed over to Sowerberry.
  • 'Aha!' said the undertaker, glancing over it with a lively countenance; 'a_rder for a coffin, eh?'
  • 'For a coffin first, and a porochial funeral afterwards,' replied Mr. Bumble, fastening the strap of the leathern pocket-book: which, like himself, was ver_orpulent.
  • 'Bayton,' said the undertaker, looking from the scrap of paper to Mr. Bumble.
  • 'I never heard the name before.'
  • Bumble shook his head, as he replied, 'Obstinate people, Mr. Sowerberry; ver_bstinate. Proud, too, I'm afraid, sir.'
  • 'Proud, eh?' exclaimed Mr. Sowerberry with a sneer. 'Come, that's too much.'
  • 'Oh, it's sickening,' replied the beadle. 'Antimonial, Mr. Sowerberry!'
  • 'So it is,' asquiesced the undertaker.
  • 'We only heard of the family the night before last,' said the beadle; 'and w_houldn't have known anything about them, then, only a woman who lodges in th_ame house made an application to the porochial committee for them to send th_orochial surgeon to see a woman as was very bad. He had gone out to dinner; but his 'prentice (which is a very clever lad) sent 'em some medicine in _lacking-bottle, offhand.'
  • 'Ah, there's promptness,' said the undertaker.
  • 'Promptness, indeed!' replied the beadle. 'But what's the consequence; what'_he ungrateful behaviour of these rebels, sir? Why, the husband sends bac_ord that the medicine won't suit his wife's complaint, and so she shan't tak_t—says she shan't take it, sir! Good, strong, wholesome medicine, as wa_iven with great success to two Irish labourers and a coal-heaver, only a wee_efore—sent 'em for nothing, with a blackin'-bottle in,—and he sends back wor_hat she shan't take it, sir!'
  • As the atrocity presented itself to Mr. Bumble's mind in full force, he struc_he counter sharply with his cane, and became flushed with indignation.
  • 'Well,' said the undertaker, 'I ne—ver—did—'
  • 'Never did, sir!' ejaculated the beadle. 'No, nor nobody never did; but no_he's dead, we've got to bury her; and that's the direction; and the soone_t's done, the better.'
  • Thus saying, Mr. Bumble put on his cocked hat wrong side first, in a fever o_arochial excitement; and flounced out of the shop.
  • 'Why, he was so angry, Oliver, that he forgot even to ask after you!' said Mr.
  • Sowerberry, looking after the beadle as he strode down the street.
  • 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, who had carefully kept himself out of sight, during the interview; and who was shaking from head to foot at the mer_ecollection of the sound of Mr. Bumble's voice.
  • He needn't haven taken the trouble to shrink from Mr. Bumble's glance, however; for that functionary, on whom the prediction of the gentleman in th_hite waistcoat had made a very strong impression, thought that now th_ndertaker had got Oliver upon trial the subject was better avoided, unti_uch time as he should be firmly bound for seven years, and all danger of hi_eing returned upon the hands of the parish should be thus effectually an_egally overcome.
  • 'Well,' said Mr. Sowerberry, taking up his hat, 'the sooner this job is done, the better. Noah, look after the shop. Oliver, put on your cap, and come wit_e.' Oliver obeyed, and followed his master on his professional mission.
  • They walked on, for some time, through the most crowded and densely inhabite_art of the town; and then, striking down a narrow street more dirty an_iserable than any they had yet passed through, paused to look for the hous_hich was the object of their search. The houses on either side were high an_arge, but very old, and tenanted by people of the poorest class: as thei_eglected appearance would have sufficiently denoted, without the concurren_estimony afforded by the squalid looks of the few men and women who, wit_olded arms and bodies half doubled, occasionally skulked along. A great man_f the tenements had shop-fronts; but these were fast closed, and moulderin_way; only the upper rooms being inhabited. Some houses which had becom_nsecure from age and decay, were prevented from falling into the street, b_uge beams of wood reared against the walls, and firmly planted in the road; but even these crazy dens seemed to have been selected as the nightly haunt_f some houseless wretches, for many of the rough boards which supplied th_lace of door and window, were wrenched from their positions, to afford a_perture wide enough for the passage of a human body. The kennel was stagnan_nd filthy. The very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in it_ottenness, were hideous with famine.
  • There was neither knocker nor bell-handle at the open door where Oliver an_is master stopped; so, groping his way cautiously through the dark passage, and bidding Oliver keep close to him and not be afraid the undertaker mounte_o the top of the first flight of stairs. Stumbling against a door on th_anding, he rapped at it with his knuckles.
  • It was opened by a young girl of thirteen or fourteen. The undertaker at onc_aw enough of what the room contained, to know it was the apartment to whic_e had been directed. He stepped in; Oliver followed him.
  • There was no fire in the room; but a man was crouching, mechanically, over th_mpty stove. An old woman, too, had drawn a low stool to the cold hearth, an_as sitting beside him. There were some ragged children in another corner; an_n a small recess, opposite the door, there lay upon the ground, somethin_overed with an old blanket. Oliver shuddered as he cast his eyes toward th_lace, and crept involuntarily closer to his master; for though it was covere_p, the boy felt that it was a corpse.
  • The man's face was thin and very pale; his hair and beard were grizzly; hi_yes were bloodshot. The old woman's face was wrinkled; her two remainin_eeth protruded over her under lip; and her eyes were bright and piercing.
  • Oliver was afraid to look at either her or the man. They seemed so like th_ats he had seen outside.
  • 'Nobody shall go near her,' said the man, starting fiercely up, as th_ndertaker approached the recess. 'Keep back! Damn you, keep back, if you've _ife to lose!'
  • 'Nonsense, my good man,' said the undertaker, who was pretty well used t_isery in all its shapes. 'Nonsense!'
  • 'I tell you,' said the man: clenching his hands, and stamping furiously on th_loor,—'I tell you I won't have her put into the ground. She couldn't res_here. The worms would worry her—not eat her—she is so worn away.'
  • The undertaker offered no reply to this raving; but producing a tape from hi_ocket, knelt down for a moment by the side of the body.
  • 'Ah!' said the man: bursting into tears, and sinking on his knees at the fee_f the dead woman; 'kneel down, kneel down —kneel round her, every one of you, and mark my words! I say she was starved to death. I never knew how bad sh_as, till the fever came upon her; and then her bones were starting throug_he skin. There was neither fire nor candle; she died in the dark—in the dark!
  • She couldn't even see her children's faces, though we heard her gasping ou_heir names. I begged for her in the streets: and they sent me to prison. Whe_ came back, she was dying; and all the blood in my heart has dried up, fo_hey starved her to death. I swear it before the God that saw it! They starve_er!' He twined his hands in his hair; and, with a loud scream, rolle_rovelling upon the floor: his eyes fixed, and the foam covering his lips.
  • The terrified children cried bitterly; but the old woman, who had hithert_emained as quiet as if she had been wholly deaf to all that passed, menace_hem into silence. Having unloosened the cravat of the man who still remaine_xtended on the ground, she tottered towards the undertaker.
  • 'She was my daughter,' said the old woman, nodding her head in the directio_f the corpse; and speaking with an idiotic leer, more ghastly than even th_resence of death in such a place. 'Lord, Lord! Well, it _is_ strange that _ho gave birth to her, and was a woman then, should be alive and merry now, and she lying there: so cold and stiff! Lord, Lord!—to think of it; it's a_ood as a play—as good as a play!'
  • As the wretched creature mumbled and chuckled in her hideous merriment, th_ndertaker turned to go away.
  • 'Stop, stop!' said the old woman in a loud whisper. 'Will she be buried to- morrow, or next day, or to-night? I laid her out; and I must walk, you know.
  • Send me a large cloak: a good warm one: for it is bitter cold. We should hav_ake and wine, too, before we go! Never mind; send some bread—only a loaf o_read and a cup of water. Shall we have some bread, dear?' she said eagerly: catching at the undertaker's coat, as he once more moved towards the door.
  • 'Yes, yes,' said the undertaker,'of course. Anything you like!' He disengage_imself from the old woman's grasp; and, drawing Oliver after him, hurrie_way.
  • The next day, (the family having been meanwhile relieved with a half-quarter_oaf and a piece of cheese, left with them by Mr. Bumble himself,) Oliver an_is master returned to the miserable abode; where Mr. Bumble had alread_rrived, accompanied by four men from the workhouse, who were to act a_earers. An old black cloak had been thrown over the rags of the old woman an_he man; and the bare coffin having been screwed down, was hoisted on th_houlders of the bearers, and carried into the street.
  • 'Now, you must put your best leg foremost, old lady!' whispered Sowerberry i_he old woman's ear; 'we are rather late; and it won't do, to keep th_lergyman waiting. Move on, my men,—as quick as you like!'
  • Thus directed, the bearers trotted on under their light burden; and the tw_ourners kept as near them, as they could. Mr. Bumble and Sowerberry walked a_ good smart pace in front; and Oliver, whose legs were not so long as hi_aster's, ran by the side.
  • There was not so great a necessity for hurrying as Mr. Sowerberry ha_nticipated, however; for when they reached the obscure corner of th_hurchyard in which the nettles grew, and where the parish graves were made, the clergyman had not arrived; and the clerk, who was sitting by the vestry- room fire, seemed to think it by no means improbable that it might be an hou_r so, before he came. So, they put the bier on the brink of the grave; an_he two mourners waited patiently in the damp clay, with a cold rain drizzlin_own, while the ragged boys whom the spectacle had attracted into th_hurchyard played a noisy game at hide-and-seek among the tombstones, o_aried their amusements by jumping backwards and forwards over the coffin. Mr.
  • Sowerberry and Bumble, being personal friends of the clerk, sat by the fir_ith him, and read the paper.
  • At length, after a lapse of something more than an hour, Mr. Bumble, an_owerberry, and the clerk, were seen running towards the grave. Immediatel_fterwards, the clergyman appeared: putting on his surplice as he came along.
  • Mr. Bumble then thrashed a boy or two, to keep up appearances; and th_everend gentleman, having read as much of the burial service as could b_ompressed into four minutes, gave his surplice to the clerk, and walked awa_gain.
  • 'Now, Bill!' said Sowerberry to the grave-digger. 'Fill up!'
  • It was no very difficult task, for the grave was so full, that the uppermos_offin was within a few feet of the surface. The grave-digger shovelled in th_arth; stamped it loosely down with his feet: shouldered his spade; and walke_ff, followed by the boys, who murmured very loud complaints at the fun bein_ver so soon.
  • 'Come, my good fellow!' said Bumble, tapping the man on the back. 'They wan_o shut up the yard.'
  • The man who had never once moved, since he had taken his station by the grav_ide, started, raised his head, stared at the person who had addressed him, walked forward for a few paces; and fell down in a swoon. The crazy old woma_as too much occupied in bewailing the loss of her cloak (which the undertake_ad taken off), to pay him any attention; so they threw a can of cold wate_ver him; and when he came to, saw him safely out of the churchyard, locke_he gate, and departed on their different ways.
  • 'Well, Oliver,' said Sowerberry, as they walked home, 'how do you like it?'
  • 'Pretty well, thank you, sir' replied Oliver, with considerable hesitation.
  • 'Not very much, sir.'
  • 'Ah, you'll get used to it in time, Oliver,' said Sowerberry. 'Nothing whe_ou _are_ used to it, my boy.'
  • Oliver wondered, in his own mind, whether it had taken a very long time to ge_r. Sowerberry used to it. But he thought it better not to ask the question; and walked back to the shop: thinking over all he had seen and heard.