OLIVER, BEING GOADED BY THE TAUNTS
OF NOAH, ROUSES INTO ACTION, AND RATHER ASTONISHES
The month’s trial over, Oliver
was formally apprenticed. It was a nice sickly
season 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.
The success of Mr. Sowerberry’s ingenious speculation,
exceeded even his most sanguine hopes. The oldest
inhabitants recollected no period at which measles
had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence;
and many were the mournful processions which little
Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching down to his
knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion
of all the mothers in the town. As Oliver accompanied
his master in most of his adult expeditions too, in
order that he might acquire that equanimity of demeanour
and full command of nerve which was essential to a
finished undertaker, he had many opportunities of observing
the beautiful resignation and fortitude with which
some strong-minded people bear their trials and losses.
For instance; when Sowerberry had
an order for the burial of some rich old lady or gentleman,
who was surrounded by a great number of nephews and
nieces, who had been perfectly inconsolable during
the previous illness, and whose grief had been wholly
irrepressible even on the most public occasions, they
would be as happy among themselves as need be quite
cheerful and contented conversing together
with as much freedom and gaiety, as if nothing whatever
had happened to disturb them. Husbands, too,
bore the loss of their wives with the most heroic
calmness. Wives, again, put on weeds for their
husbands, as if, so far from grieving in the garb
of sorrow, they had made up their minds to render
it as becoming and attractive as possible. It
was observable, too, that ladies and gentlemen who
were in passions of anguish during the ceremony of
interment, recovered almost as soon as they reached
home, and became quite composed before the tea-drinking
was over. All this was very pleasant and improving
to see; and Oliver beheld it with great admiration.
That Oliver Twist was moved to resignation
by the example of these good people, I cannot, although
I am his biographer, undertake to affirm with any
degree of confidence; but I can most distinctly say,
that for many months he continued meekly to submit
to the domination and ill-treatment of Noah Claypole:
who used him far worse than before, now that his jealousy
was roused by seeing the new boy promoted to the black
stick and hatband, while he, the old one, remained
stationary in the muffin-cap and leathers. Charlotte
treated him ill, because Noah did; and Mrs. Sowerberry
was his decided enemy, because Mr. Sowerberry was
disposed to be his friend; so, between these three
on one side, and a glut of funerals on the other,
Oliver was not altogether as comfortable as the hungry
pig was, when he was shut up, by mistake, in the grain
department of a brewery.
And now, I come to a very important
passage in Oliver’s history; for I have to record
an act, slight and unimportant perhaps in appearance,
but which indirectly produced a material change in
all his future prospects and proceedings.
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 worst end of the neck when
Charlotte being called out of the way, there ensued
a brief interval of time, which Noah Claypole, being
hungry and vicious, considered he could not possibly
devote to a worthier purpose than aggravating and
tantalising young Oliver Twist.
Intent upon this innocent amusement,
Noah put his feet on the table-cloth; and pulled Oliver’s
hair; and twitched his ears; and expressed his opinion
that he was a ‘sneak’; and furthermore
announced his intention of coming to see him hanged,
whenever that desirable event should take place; and
entered upon various topics of petty annoyance, like
a malicious and ill-conditioned charity-boy as he was.
But, making Oliver cry, Noah attempted to be more facetious
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
‘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 a curious
working of the mouth and nostrils, which Mr. Claypole
thought must be the immediate precursor of a violent
fit of crying. Under this impression he returned
to the charge.
‘What did she die of, Work’us?’
‘Of a broken heart, some of
our old nurses told me,’ replied Oliver:
more as if he were talking to himself, than answering
Noah. ’I think I know what it must be to
die of that!’
‘Tol de rol lol lol,
right fol lairy, Work’us,’ said Noah,
as a tear rolled down Oliver’s cheek.
‘What’s set you a snivelling now?’
‘Not you,’ replied
Oliver, sharply. ’There; that’s enough.
Don’t say anything more to me about her; you’d
‘Better not!’ exclaimed
Noah. ’Well! Better not! Work’us,
don’t be impudent. Your mother, too!
She was a nice ‘un she was. Oh, Lor!’
And here, Noah nodded his head expressively; and curled
up as much of his small red nose as muscular action
could collect together, for the occasion.
‘Yer know, Work’us,’
continued Noah, emboldened by Oliver’s silence,
and speaking 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 it then; and I am very
sorry for it; and I’m sure we all are, and pity
yer very much. But yer must know, Work’us,
yer mother was a regular right-down bad ‘un.’
‘What did you say?’ inquired
Oliver, looking up very quickly.
’A regular right-down bad ‘un,
Work’us,’ replied Noah, coolly. ’And
it’s a great deal better, Work’us, that
she died when she did, or else she’d have been
hard labouring in Bridewell, or transported, or hung;
which is more likely than either, isn’t it?’
Crimson with fury, Oliver started
up; overthrew the chair and table; seized Noah by
the throat; shook him, in the violence of his rage,
till his teeth chattered in his head; and collecting
his whole force into one heavy blow, felled him to
A minute ago, the boy had looked the
quiet child, mild, dejected creature that harsh treatment
had made him. But his spirit was roused at last;
the cruel insult to his dead mother had set his blood
on fire. His breast heaved; his attitude was
erect; his eye bright and vivid; his whole person
changed, as he stood 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 a murdering of me!
Help! help! Oliver’s gone mad! Char lotte!’
Noah’s shouts were responded
to, by a loud scream from Charlotte, and a louder
from 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 that it
was consistent with the preservation of human life,
to come further down.
‘Oh, you little wretch!’
screamed Charlotte: seizing Oliver with her utmost
force, which was about equal to that of a moderately
strong man in particularly good training. ’Oh,
you little un-grate-ful, mur-de-rous, hor-rid
villain!’ And between every syllable, Charlotte
gave Oliver a blow with all her 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 be effectual
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 the other.
In this favourable position of affairs, Noah rose
from the ground, and pommelled him behind.
This was rather too violent exercise
to last long. When they were all wearied out,
and could tear and beat no longer, they dragged Oliver,
struggling and shouting, 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. Make haste!’
said Mrs. Sowerberry: speaking as well as she
could, through a deficiency of breath, and a sufficiency
of cold water, which Noah had poured over her head
and shoulders. ’Oh! Charlotte, what
a mercy we have not all been murdered in our beds!’
‘Ah! mercy indeed, ma’am,’
was the reply. I only hope this’ll teach
master not to have any more of these dreadful creatures,
that are born to be murderers and 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 the crown of Oliver’s
head, rubbed his eyes with the inside of his wrists
while this commiseration was bestowed upon him, and
performed some affecting tears and 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 this occurance highly
‘Dear, dear! I don’t
know, ma’am,’ said Charlotte, ’unless
we send for the police-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 lose a minute; never mind
your cap! Make haste! You can hold a knife
to that black eye, as you run along. It’ll
keep the swelling down.’
Noah stopped to make no reply, but
started off at his fullest speed; and very much it
astonished the people who were out walking, to see
a charity-boy tearing through the streets pell-mell,
with no cap on his head, and a clasp-knife at his