The month's trial over, Oliver was formally apprenticed. It was a nice sickl_eason just at this time. In commercial phrase, coffins were looking up; and,
in the course of a few weeks, Oliver acquired a great deal of experience. Th_uccess of Mr. Sowerberry's ingenious speculation, exceeded even his mos_anguine hopes. The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at which measle_ad been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence; and many were th_ournful processions which little Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching dow_o his knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion of all the mother_n the town. As Oliver accompanied his master in most of his adult expedition_oo, in order that he might acquire that equanimity of demeanour and ful_ommand of nerve which was essential to a finished undertaker, he had man_pportunities of observing the beautiful resignation and fortitude with whic_ome strong-minded people bear their trials and losses.
For instance; when Sowerberry had an order for the burial of some rich ol_ady or gentleman, who was surrounded by a great number of nephews and nieces,
who had been perfectly inconsolable during the previous illness, and whos_rief had been wholly irrepressible even on the most public occasions, the_ould be as happy among themselves as need be—quite cheerful an_ontented—conversing together with as much freedom and gaiety, as if nothin_hatever had happened to disturb them. Husbands, too, bore the loss of thei_ives with the most heroic calmness. Wives, again, put on weeds for thei_usbands, as if, so far from grieving in the garb of sorrow, they had made u_heir minds to render it as becoming and attractive as possible. It wa_bservable, too, that ladies and gentlemen who were in passions of anguis_uring the ceremony of interment, recovered almost as soon as they reache_ome, and became quite composed before the tea-drinking was over. All this wa_ery pleasant and improving to see; and Oliver beheld it with grea_dmiration.
That Oliver Twist was moved to resignation by the example of these goo_eople, I cannot, although I am his biographer, undertake to affirm with an_egree of confidence; but I can most distinctly say, that for many months h_ontinued meekly to submit to the domination and ill-treatment of Noa_laypole: who used him far worse than before, now that his jealousy was rouse_y seeing the new boy promoted to the black stick and hatband, while he, th_ld one, remained stationary in the muffin-cap and leathers. Charlotte treate_im ill, because Noah did; and Mrs. Sowerberry was his decided enemy, becaus_r. Sowerberry was disposed to be his friend; so, between these three on on_ide, and a glut of funerals on the other, Oliver was not altogether a_omfortable as the hungry pig was, when he was shut up, by mistake, in th_rain department of a brewery.
And now, I come to a very important passage in Oliver's history; for I have t_ecord an act, slight and unimportant perhaps in appearance, but whic_ndirectly produced a material change in all his future prospects an_roceedings.
One day, Oliver and Noah had descended into the kitchen at the usual dinner-
hour, to banquet upon a small joint of mutton—a pound and a half of the wors_nd of the neck—when Charlotte being called out of the way, there ensued _rief interval of time, which Noah Claypole, being hungry and vicious,
considered he could not possibly devote to a worthier purpose than aggravatin_nd tantalising young Oliver Twist.
Intent upon this innocent amusement, Noah put his feet on the table-cloth; an_ulled Oliver's hair; and twitched his ears; and expressed his opinion that h_as a 'sneak'; and furthermore announced his intention of coming to see hi_anged, whenever that desirable event should take place; and entered upo_arious topics of petty annoyance, like a malicious and ill-conditione_harity-boy as he was. But, making Oliver cry, Noah attempted to be mor_acetious still; and in his attempt, did what many sometimes do to this day,
when they want to be funny. He got rather personal.
'Work'us,' said Noah, 'how's your mother?'
'She's dead,' replied Oliver; 'don't you say anything about her to me!'
Oliver's colour rose as he said this; he breathed quickly; and there was _urious working of the mouth and nostrils, which Mr. Claypole thought must b_he immediate precursor of a violent fit of crying. Under this impression h_eturned to the charge.
'What did she die of, Work'us?' said Noah.
'Of a broken heart, some of our old nurses told me,' replied Oliver: more a_f he were talking to himself, than answering Noah. 'I think I know what i_ust be to die of that!'
'Tol de rol lol lol, right fol lairy, Work'us,' said Noah, as a tear rolle_own Oliver's cheek. 'What's set you a snivelling now?'
'Not _you_,' replied Oliver, sharply. 'There; that's enough. Don't sa_nything more to me about her; you'd better not!'
_Your_ mother, too! She was a nice 'un she was. Oh, Lor!' And here, Noa_odded his head expressively; and curled up as much of his small red nose a_uscular action could collect together, for the occasion.
'Yer know, Work'us,' continued Noah, emboldened by Oliver's silence, an_peaking in a jeering tone of affected pity: of all tones the most annoying:
'Yer know, Work'us, it can't be helped now; and of course yer couldn't help i_hen; and I am very sorry for it; and I'm sure we all are, and pity yer ver_uch. But yer must know, Work'us, yer mother was a regular right-down bad
'What did you say?' inquired Oliver, looking up very quickly.
'A regular right-down bad 'un, Work'us,' replied Noah, coolly. 'And it's _reat deal better, Work'us, that she died when she did, or else she'd hav_een hard labouring in Bridewell, or transported, or hung; which is mor_ikely than either, isn't it?'
Crimson with fury, Oliver started up; overthrew the chair and table; seize_oah by the throat; shook him, in the violence of his rage, till his teet_hattered in his head; and collecting his whole force into one heavy blow,
felled him to the ground.
A minute ago, the boy had looked the quiet child, mild, dejected creature tha_arsh treatment had made him. But his spirit was roused at last; the crue_nsult to his dead mother had set his blood on fire. His breast heaved; hi_ttitude was erect; his eye bright and vivid; his whole person changed, as h_tood glaring over the cowardly tormentor who now lay crouching at his feet;
and defied him with an energy he had never known before.
'He'll murder me!' blubbered Noah. 'Charlotte! missis! Here's the new boy _urdering of me! Help! help! Oliver's gone mad! Char—lotte!'
Noah's shouts were responded to, by a loud scream from Charlotte, and a loude_rom Mrs. Sowerberry; the former of whom rushed into the kitchen by a side-
door, while the latter paused on the staircase till she was quite certain tha_t was consistent with the preservation of human life, to come further down.
'Oh, you little wretch!' screamed Charlotte: seizing Oliver with her utmos_orce, which was about equal to that of a moderately strong man i_articularly good training. 'Oh, you little un-grate-ful, mur-de-rous, hor-ri_illain!' And between every syllable, Charlotte gave Oliver a blow with al_er might: accompanying it with a scream, for the benefit of society.
Charlotte's fist was by no means a light one; but, lest it should not b_ffectual in calming Oliver's wrath, Mrs. Sowerberry plunged into the kitchen,
and assisted to hold him with one hand, while she scratched his face with th_ther. In this favourable position of affairs, Noah rose from the ground, an_ommelled him behind.
This was rather too violent exercise to last long. When they were all wearie_ut, and could tear and beat no longer, they dragged Oliver, struggling an_houting, but nothing daunted, into the dust-cellar, and there locked him up.
This being done, Mrs. Sowerberry sunk into a chair, and burst into tears.
'Bless her, she's going off!' said Charlotte. 'A glass of water, Noah, dear.
'Oh! Charlotte,' said Mrs. Sowerberry: speaking as well as she could, throug_ deficiency of breath, and a sufficiency of cold water, which Noah had poure_ver her head and shoulders. 'Oh! Charlotte, what a mercy we have not all bee_urdered in our beds!'
'Ah! mercy indeed, ma'am,' was the reply. I only hope this'll teach master no_o have any more of these dreadful creatures, that are born to be murderer_nd robbers from their very cradle. Poor Noah! He was all but killed, ma'am,
when I come in.'
'Poor fellow!' said Mrs. Sowerberry: looking piteously on the charity-boy.
Noah, whose top waistcoat-button might have been somewhere on a level with th_rown of Oliver's head, rubbed his eyes with the inside of his wrists whil_his commiseration was bestowed upon him, and performed some affecting tear_nd sniffs.
'What's to be done!' exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry. 'Your master's not at home;
there's not a man in the house, and he'll kick that door down in ten minutes.'
Oliver's vigorous plunges against the bit of timber in question, rendered thi_ccurance highly probable.
'Dear, dear! I don't know, ma'am,' said Charlotte, 'unless we send for th_olice-officers.'
'Or the millingtary,' suggested Mr. Claypole.
'No, no,' said Mrs. Sowerberry: bethinking herself of Oliver's old friend.
'Run to Mr. Bumble, Noah, and tell him to come here directly, and not to los_ minute; never mind your cap! Make haste! You can hold a knife to that blac_ye, as you run along. It'll keep the swelling down.'
Noah stopped to make no reply, but started off at his fullest speed; and ver_uch it astonished the people who were out walking, to see a charity-bo_earing through the streets pell-mell, with no cap on his head, and a clasp-