Noah Claypole ran along the streets at his swiftest pace, and paused not onc_or breath, until he reached the workhouse-gate. Having rested here, for _inute or so, to collect a good burst of sobs and an imposing show of tear_nd terror, he knocked loudly at the wicket; and presented such a rueful fac_o the aged pauper who opened it, that even he, who saw nothing but ruefu_aces about him at the best of times, started back in astonishment.
'Why, what's the matter with the boy!' said the old pauper.
'Mr. Bumble! Mr. Bumble!' cried Noah, with well-affected dismay: and in tone_o loud and agitated, that they not only caught the ear of Mr. Bumble himself, who happened to be hard by, but alarmed him so much that he rushed into th_ard without his cocked hat,—which is a very curious and remarkabl_ircumstance: as showing that even a beadle, acted upon a sudden and powerfu_mpulse, may be afflicted with a momentary visitation of loss of self- possession, and forgetfulness of personal dignity.
'Oh, Mr. Bumble, sir!' said Noah: 'Oliver, sir,—Oliver has—'
'What? What?' interposed Mr. Bumble: with a gleam of pleasure in his metalli_yes. 'Not run away; he hasn't run away, has he, Noah?'
'No, sir, no. Not run away, sir, but he's turned wicious,' replied Noah. 'H_ried to murder me, sir; and then he tried to murder Charlotte; and the_issis. Oh! what dreadful pain it is!
Such agony, please, sir!' And here, Noah writhed and twisted his body into a_xtensive variety of eel-like positions; thereby giving Mr. Bumble t_nderstand that, from the violent and sanguinary onset of Oliver Twist, he ha_ustained severe internal injury and damage, from which he was at that momen_uffering the acutest torture.
When Noah saw that the intelligence he communicated perfectly paralysed Mr.
Bumble, he imparted additional effect thereunto, by bewailing his dreadfu_ounds ten times louder than before; and when he observed a gentleman in _hite waistcoat crossing the yard, he was more tragic in his lamentations tha_ver: rightly conceiving it highly expedient to attract the notice, and rous_he indignation, of the gentleman aforesaid.
The gentleman's notice was very soon attracted; for he had not walked thre_aces, when he turned angrily round, and inquired what that young cur wa_owling for, and why Mr. Bumble did not favour him with something which woul_ender the series of vocular exclamations so designated, an involuntar_rocess?
'It's a poor boy from the free-school, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble, 'who has bee_early murdered—all but murdered, sir,—by young Twist.'
'By Jove!' exclaimed the gentleman in the white waistcoat, stopping short. '_new it! I felt a strange presentiment from the very first, that tha_udacious young savage would come to be hung!'
'He has likewise attempted, sir, to murder the female servant,' said Mr.
Bumble, with a face of ashy paleness.
'And his missis,' interposed Mr. Claypole.
'And his master, too, I think you said, Noah?' added Mr. Bumble.
'No! he's out, or he would have murdered him,' replied Noah. 'He said h_anted to.'
'Ah! Said he wanted to, did he, my boy?' inquired the gentleman in the whit_aistcoat.
'Yes, sir,' replied Noah. 'And please, sir, missis wants to know whether Mr.
Bumble can spare time to step up there, directly, and flog him—'cause master'_ut.'
'Certainly, my boy; certainly,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat: smiling benignly, and patting Noah's head, which was about three inches highe_han his own. 'You're a good boy—a very good boy. Here's a penny for you.
Bumble, just step up to Sowerberry's with your cane, and see what's best to b_one. Don't spare him, Bumble.'
'No, I will not, sir,' replied the beadle. And the cocked hat and cane havin_een, by this time, adjusted to their owner's satisfaction, Mr. Bumble an_oah Claypole betook themselves with all speed to the undertaker's shop.
Here the position of affairs had not at all improved. Sowerberry had not ye_eturned, and Oliver continued to kick, with undiminished vigour, at th_ellar-door. The accounts of his ferocity as related by Mrs. Sowerberry an_harlotte, were of so startling a nature, that Mr. Bumble judged it prudent t_arley, before opening the door. With this view he gave a kick at the outside, by way of prelude; and, then, applying his mouth to the keyhole, said, in _eep and impressive tone:
'Come; you let me out!' replied Oliver, from the inside.
'Do you know this here voice, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble.
'Yes,' replied Oliver.
'Ain't you afraid of it, sir? Ain't you a-trembling while I speak, sir?' sai_r. Bumble.
'No!' replied Oliver, boldly.
An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit, and was in th_abit of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not a little. He stepped back fro_he keyhole; drew himself up to his full height; and looked from one t_nother of the three bystanders, in mute astonishment.
'Oh, you know, Mr. Bumble, he must be mad,' said Mrs. Sowerberry.
'No boy in half his senses could venture to speak so to you.'
'It's not Madness, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble, after a few moments of dee_editation. 'It's Meat.'
'What?' exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.
'Meat, ma'am, meat,' replied Bumble, with stern emphasis. 'You've over-fe_im, ma'am. You've raised a artificial soul and spirit in him, ma'a_nbecoming a person of his condition: as the board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who ar_ractical philosophers, will tell you. What have paupers to do with soul o_pirit? It's quite enough that we let 'em have live bodies. If you had kep_he boy on gruel, ma'am, this would never have happened.'
'Dear, dear!' ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyes to th_itchen ceiling: 'this comes of being liberal!'
The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, had consisted of a profus_estowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends which nobody else would eat; so there was a great deal of meekness and self-devotion in her voluntaril_emaining under Mr. Bumble's heavy accusation. Of which, to do her justice, she was wholly innocent, in thought, word, or deed.
'Ah!' said Mr. Bumble, when the lady brought her eyes down to earth again;
'the only thing that can be done now, that I know of, is to leave him in th_ellar for a day or so, till he's a little starved down; and then to take hi_ut, and keep him on gruel all through the apprenticeship. He comes of a ba_amily. Excitable natures, Mrs. Sowerberry! Both the nurse and doctor said, that that mother of his made her way here, against difficulties and pain tha_ould have killed any well-disposed woman, weeks before.'
At this point of Mr. Bumble's discourse, Oliver, just hearing enough to kno_hat some allusion was being made to his mother, recommenced kicking, with _iolence that rendered every other sound inaudible. Sowerberry returned a_his juncture. Oliver's offence having been explained to him, with suc_xaggerations as the ladies thought best calculated to rouse his ire, h_nlocked the cellar-door in a twinkling, and dragged his rebellious apprentic_ut, by the collar.
Oliver's clothes had been torn in the beating he had received; his face wa_ruised and scratched; and his hair scattered over his forehead. The angr_lush had not disappeared, however; and when he was pulled out of his prison, he scowled boldly on Noah, and looked quite undismayed.
'Now, you are a nice young fellow, ain't you?' said Sowerberry; giving Olive_ shake, and a box on the ear.
'He called my mother names,' replied Oliver.
'Well, and what if he did, you little ungrateful wretch?' said Mrs.
Sowerberry. 'She deserved what he said, and worse.'
'She didn't' said Oliver.
'She did,' said Mrs. Sowerberry.
'It's a lie!' said Oliver.
Mrs. Sowerberry burst into a flood of tears.
This flood of tears left Mr. Sowerberry no alternative. If he had hesitate_or one instant to punish Oliver most severely, it must be quite clear t_very experienced reader that he would have been, according to all precedent_n disputes of matrimony established, a brute, an unnatural husband, a_nsulting creature, a base imitation of a man, and various other agreeabl_haracters too numerous for recital within the limits of this chapter. To d_im justice, he was, as far as his power went—it was not very extensive—kindl_isposed towards the boy; perhaps, because it was his interest to be so; perhaps, because his wife disliked him. The flood of tears, however, left hi_o resource; so he at once gave him a drubbing, which satisfied even Mrs.
Sowerberry herself, and rendered Mr. Bumble's subsequent application of th_arochial cane, rather unnecessary. For the rest of the day, he was shut up i_he back kitchen, in company with a pump and a slice of bread; and at night, Mrs. Sowerberry, after making various remarks outside the door, by no mean_omplimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the room, and, amids_he jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte, ordered him upstairs to hi_ismal bed.
It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillness of the gloom_orkshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to the feelings which th_ay's treatment may be supposed likely to have awakened in a mere child. H_ad listened to their taunts with a look of contempt; he had borne the las_ithout a cry: for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would hav_ept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted him alive. But now, when there were none to see or hear him, he fell upon his knees on the floor; and, hiding his face in his hands, wept such tears as, God send for the credi_f our nature, few so young may ever have cause to pour out before him!
For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The candle wa_urning low in the socket when he rose to his feet. Having gazed cautiousl_ound him, and listened intently, he gently undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad.
It was a cold, dark night. The stars seemed, to the boy's eyes, farther fro_he earth than he had ever seen them before; there was no wind; and the sombr_hadows thrown by the trees upon the ground, looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still. He softly reclosed the door. Having availed himself o_he expiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the few article_f wearing apparel he had, sat himself down upon a bench, to wait for morning.
With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevices in th_hutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door. One timid look around—on_oment's pause of hesitation—he had closed it behind him, and was in the ope_treet.
He looked to the right and to the left, uncertain whither to fly.
He remembered to have seen the waggons, as they went out, toiling up the hill.
He took the same route; and arriving at a footpath across the fields: which h_new, after some distance, led out again into the road; struck into it, an_alked quickly on.
Along this same footpath, Oliver well-remembered he had trotted beside Mr.
Bumble, when he first carried him to the workhouse from the farm. His way la_irectly in front of the cottage. His heart beat quickly when he bethough_imself of this; and he half resolved to turn back. He had come a long wa_hough, and should lose a great deal of time by doing so. Besides, it was s_arly that there was very little fear of his being seen; so he walked on.
He reached the house. There was no appearance of its inmates stirring at tha_arly hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into the garden. A child was weedin_ne of the little beds; as he stopped, he raised his pale face and disclose_he features of one of his former companions. Oliver felt glad to see him, before he went; for, though younger than himself, he had been his littl_riend and playmate. They had been beaten, and starved, and shut up together, many and many a time.
'Hush, Dick!' said Oliver, as the boy ran to the gate, and thrust his thin ar_etween the rails to greet him. 'Is any one up?'
'Nobody but me,' replied the child.
'You musn't say you saw me, Dick,' said Oliver. 'I am running away. They bea_nd ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek my fortune, some long way off. _on't know where. How pale you are!'
'I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,' replied the child with a fain_mile. 'I am very glad to see you, dear; but don't stop, don't stop!'
'Yes, yes, I will, to say good-b'ye to you,' replied Oliver. 'I shall see yo_gain, Dick. I know I shall! You will be well and happy!'
'I hope so,' replied the child. 'After I am dead, but not before. I know th_octor must be right, Oliver, because I dream so much of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake. Kiss me,' said the child, climbing up the low gate, and flinging his little arms round Oliver's neck.
'Good-b'ye, dear! God bless you!'
The blessing was from a young child's lips, but it was the first that Olive_ad ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the struggles an_ufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after life, he never once forgo_t.