OLIVER BECOMES BETTER ACQUAINTED WITH
THE CHARACTERS OF HIS NEW ASSOCIATES; AND PURCHASES
EXPERIENCE AT A HIGH PRICE. BEING A SHORT, BUT
VERY IMPORTANT CHAPTER, IN THIS HISTORY
For many days, Oliver remained in
the Jew’s room, picking the marks out of the
pocket-handkerchief, (of which a great number were
brought home,) and sometimes taking part in the game
already described: which the two boys and the
Jew played, regularly, every morning. At length,
he began to languish for fresh air, and took many occasions
of earnestly entreating the old gentleman to allow
him to go out to work with his two companions.
Oliver was rendered the more anxious
to be actively employed, by what he had seen of the
stern morality of the old gentleman’s character.
Whenever the Dodger or Charley Bates came home at night,
empty-handed, he would expatiate with great vehemence
on the misery of idle and lazy habits; and would enforce
upon them the necessity of an active life, by sending
them supperless to bed. On one occasion, indeed,
he even went so far as to knock them both down a flight
of stairs; but this was carrying out his virtuous
precepts to an unusual extent.
At length, one morning, Oliver obtained
the permission he had so eagerly sought. There
had been no handkerchiefs to work upon, for two or
three days, and the dinners had been rather meagre.
Perhaps these were reasons for the old gentleman’s
giving his assent; but, whether they were or no, he
told Oliver he might go, and placed him under the
joint guardianship of Charley Bates, and his friend
The three boys sallied out; the Dodger
with his coat-sleeves tucked up, and his hat cocked,
as usual; Master Bates sauntering along with his hands
in his pockets; and Oliver between them, wondering
where they were going, and what branch of manufacture
he would be instructed in, first.
The pace at which they went, was such
a very lazy, ill-looking saunter, that Oliver soon
began to think his companions were going to deceive
the old gentleman, by not going to work at all.
The Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling
the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing
them down areas; while Charley Bates exhibited some
very loose notions concerning the rights of property,
by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls
at the kennel sides, and thrusting them into pockets
which were so surprisingly capacious, that they seemed
to undermine his whole suit of clothes in every direction.
These things looked so bad, that Oliver was on the
point of declaring his intention of seeking his way
back, in the best way he could; when his thoughts
were suddenly directed into another channel, by a very
mysterious change of behaviour on the part of the Dodger.
They were just emerging from a narrow
court not far from the open square in Clerkenwell,
which is yet called, by some strange perversion of
terms, ‘The Green’: when the Dodger
made a sudden stop; and, laying his finger on his
lip, drew his companions back again, with the greatest
caution and circumspection.
‘What’s the matter?’ demanded Oliver.
‘Hush!’ replied the Dodger.
’Do you see that old cove at the book-stall?’
‘The old gentleman over the
way?’ said Oliver. ‘Yes, I see him.’
‘He’ll do,’ said the Doger.
‘A prime plant,’ observed Master Charley
Oliver looked from one to the other,
with the greatest surprise; but he was not permitted
to make any inquiries; for the two boys walked stealthily
across the road, and slunk close behind the old gentleman
towards whom his attention had been directed.
Oliver walked a few paces after them; and, not knowing
whether to advance or retire, stood looking on in
The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking
personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles.
He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black
velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a
smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken
up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading
away, as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair, in
his own study. It is very possible that he fancied
himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his abstraction,
that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor
the boys, nor, in short, anything but the book itself:
which he was reading straight through: turning
over the leaf when he got to the bottom of a page,
beginning at the top line of the next one, and going
regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.
What was Oliver’s horror and
alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with
his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go,
to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman’s
pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief!
To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally
to behold them, both running away round the corner
at full speed!
In an instant the whole mystery of
the hankerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels,
and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.
He stood, for a moment, with the blood
so tingling through all his veins from terror, that
he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused
and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing
what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his
feet to the ground.
This was all done in a minute’s
space. In the very instant when Oliver began
to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his
pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp
round. Seeing the boy scudding away at such a
rapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the
depredator; and shouting ‘Stop thief!’
with all his might, made off after him, book in hand.
But the old gentleman was not the
only person who raised the hue-and-cry. The Dodger
and Master Bates, unwilling to attract public attention
by running down the open street, had merely retired
into the very first doorway round the corner.
They no sooner heard the cry, and saw Oliver running,
than, guessing exactly how the matter stood, they
issued forth with great promptitude; and, shouting
‘Stop thief!’ too, joined in the pursuit
like good citizens.
Although Oliver had been brought up
by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted
with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is
the first law of nature. If he had been, perhaps
he would have been prepared for this. Not being
prepared, however, it alarmed him the more; so away
he went like the wind, with the old gentleman and
the two boys roaring and shouting behind him.
‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’
There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman
leaves his counter, and the car-man his waggon; the
butcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket;
the milkman his pail; the errand-boy his parcels;
the school-boy his marbles; the paviour his pickaxe;
the child his battledore. Away they run, pell-mell,
helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing, yelling,
screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn
the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the
fowls: and streets, squares, and courts, re-echo
with the sound.
‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’
The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd
accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing
through the mud, and rattling along the pavements:
up go the windows, out run the people, onward bear
the mob, a whole audience desert Punch in the very
thickest of the plot, and, joining the rushing throng,
swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry,
‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’
‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’
There is a passion FOR hunting something
deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched
breathless child, panting with exhaustion; terror
in his looks; agony in his eyes; large drops of perspiration
streaming down his face; strains every nerve to make
head upon his pursuers; and as they follow on his track,
and gain upon him every instant, they hail his decreasing
strength with joy. ‘Stop thief!’
Ay, stop him for God’s sake, were it only in
Stopped at last! A clever blow.
He is down upon the pavement; and the crowd eagerly
gather round him: each new comer, jostling and
struggling with the others to catch a glimpse.
‘Stand aside!’ ’Give him a little
air!’ ‘Nonsense! he don’t deserve
it.’ ’Where’s the gentleman?’
‘Here his is, coming down the street.’
’Make room there for the gentleman!’
‘Is this the boy, sir!’ ‘Yes.’
Oliver lay, covered with mud and dust,
and bleeding from the mouth, looking wildly round
upon the heap of faces that surrounded him, when the
old gentleman was officiously dragged and pushed into
the circle by the foremost of the pursuers.
‘Yes,’ said the gentleman, ‘I am
afraid it is the boy.’
‘Afraid!’ murmured the crowd. ’That’s
a good ‘un!’
‘Poor fellow!’ said the gentleman, ‘he
has hurt himself.’
‘I did that, sir,’
said a great lubberly fellow, stepping forward; ‘and
preciously I cut my knuckle agin’ his mouth.
I stopped him, sir.’
The follow touched his hat with a
grin, expecting something for his pains; but, the
old gentleman, eyeing him with an expression of dislike,
look anxiously round, as if he contemplated running
away himself: which it is very possible he might
have attempted to do, and thus have afforded another
chase, had not a police officer (who is generally
the last person to arrive in such cases) at that moment
made his way through the crowd, and seized Oliver
by the collar.
‘Come, get up,’ said the man, roughly.
‘It wasn’t me indeed,
sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two other boys,’
said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking
round. ’They are here somewhere.’
‘Oh no, they ain’t,’
said the officer. He meant this to be ironical,
but it was true besides; for the Dodger and Charley
Bates had filed off down the first convenient court
they came to.
‘Come, get up!’
‘Don’t hurt him,’ said the old gentleman,
‘Oh no, I won’t hurt him,’
replied the officer, tearing his jacket half off his
back, in proof thereof. ’Come, I know you;
it won’t do. Will you stand upon your
legs, you young devil?’
Oliver, who could hardly stand, made
a shift to raise himself on his feet, and was at once
lugged along the streets by the jacket-collar, at
a rapid pace. The gentleman walked on with them
by the officer’s side; and as many of the crowd
as could achieve the feat, got a little ahead, and
stared back at Oliver from time to time. The
boys shouted in triumph; and on they went.