ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER
CHAPTER; WHICH DESERTED A LADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY
As it would be, by no means, seemly
in a humble author to keep so mighty a personage as
a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire, and the
skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms, until
such time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve
him; and as it would still less become his station,
or his gallantry to involve in the same neglect a
lady on whom that beadle had looked with an eye of
tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had
whispered sweet words, which, coming from such a quarter,
might well thrill the bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever
degree; the historian whose pen traces these words trusting
that he knows his place, and that he entertains a becoming
reverence for those upon earth to whom high and important
authority is delegated hastens to pay them
that respect which their position demands, and to
treat them with all that duteous ceremony which their
exalted rank, and (by consequence) great virtues, imperatively
claim at his hands. Towards this end, indeed,
he had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation
touching the divine right of beadles, and elucidative
of the position, that a beadle can do no wrong:
which could not fail to have been both pleasurable
and profitable to the right-minded reader but which
he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and
space, to postpone to some more convenient and fitting
opportunity; on the arrival of which, he will be prepared
to show, that a beadle properly constituted:
that is to say, a parochial beadle, attached to a
parochial workhouse, and attending in his official
capacity the parochial church: is, in right and
virtue of his office, possessed of all the excellences
and best qualities of humanity; and that to none of
those excellences, can mere companies’ beadles,
or court-of-law beadles, or even chapel-of-ease beadles
(save the last, and they in a very lowly and inferior
degree), lay the remotest sustainable claim.
Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons,
re-weighed the sugar-tongs, made a closer inspection
of the milk-pot, and ascertained to a nicety the exact
condition of the furniture, down to the very horse-hair
seats of the chairs; and had repeated each process
full half a dozen times; before he began to think
that it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking
begets thinking; as there were no sounds of Mrs. Corney’s
approach, it occured to Mr. Bumble that it would be
an innocent and virtuous way of spending the time,
if he were further to allay his curiousity by a cursory
glance at the interior of Mrs. Corney’s chest
Having listened at the keyhole, to
assure himself that nobody was approaching the chamber,
Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom, proceeded to
make himself acquainted with the contents of the three
long drawers: which, being filled with various
garments of good fashion and texture, carefully preserved
between two layers of old newspapers, speckled with
dried lavender: seemed to yield him exceeding
satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at
the right-hand corner drawer (in which was the key),
and beholding therein a small padlocked box, which,
being shaken, gave forth a pleasant sound, as of the
chinking of coin, Mr. Bumble returned with a stately
walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his old attitude,
said, with a grave and determined air, ‘I’ll
do it!’ He followed up this remarkable declaration,
by shaking his head in a waggish manner for ten minutes,
as though he were remonstrating with himself for being
such a pleasant dog; and then, he took a view of his
legs in profile, with much seeming pleasure and interest.
He was still placidly engaged in this
latter survey, when Mrs. Corney, hurrying into the
room, threw herself, in a breathless state, on a chair
by the fireside, and covering her eyes with one hand,
placed the other over her heart, and gasped for breath.
‘Mrs. Corney,’ said Mr.
Bumble, stooping over the matron, ’what is this,
ma’am? Has anything happened, ma’am?
Pray answer me: I’m on on ’
Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, could not immediately think
of the word ‘tenterhooks,’ so he said
‘Oh, Mr. Bumble!’ cried
the lady, ‘I have been so dreadfully put out!’
‘Put out, ma’am!’
exclaimed Mr. Bumble; ‘who has dared to ?
I know!’ said Mr. Bumble, checking himself,
with native majesty, ’this is them wicious paupers!’
‘It’s dreadful to think of!’ said
the lady, shuddering.
‘Then don’t think of it, ma’am,’
rejoined Mr. Bumble.
‘I can’t help it,’ whimpered the
‘Then take something, ma’am,’
said Mr. Bumble soothingly. ’A little of
‘Not for the world!’ replied
Mrs. Corney. ’I couldn’t, oh!
The top shelf in the right-hand corner oh!’
Uttering these words, the good lady pointed, distractedly,
to the cupboard, and underwent a convulsion from internal
spasms. Mr. Bumble rushed to the closet; and,
snatching a pint green-glass bottle from the shelf
thus incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with
its contents, and held it to the lady’s lips.
‘I’m better now,’
said Mrs. Corney, falling back, after drinking half
Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously
to the ceiling in thankfulness; and, bringing them
down again to the brim of the cup, lifted it to his
Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smiling gently on the
beadle as she spoke. ’Try it! There’s
a little a little something else in it.’
Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with
a doubtful look; smacked his lips; took another taste;
and put the cup down empty.
‘It’s very comforting,’ said Mrs.
‘Very much so indeed, ma’am,’
said the beadle. As he spoke, he drew a chair
beside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had happened
to distress her.
‘Nothing,’ replied Mrs.
Corney. ’I am a foolish, excitable, weak
‘Not weak, ma’am,’
retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair a little closer.
‘Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?’
‘We are all weak creeturs,’
said Mrs. Corney, laying down a general principle.
‘So we are,’ said the beadle.
Nothing was said on either side, for
a minute or two afterwards. By the expiration
of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the position
by removing his left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney’s
chair, where it had previously rested, to Mrs. Corney’s
apron-string, round which it gradually became entwined.
‘We are all weak creeturs,’ said Mr. Bumble.
Mrs. Corney sighed.
‘Don’t sigh, Mrs. Corney,’ said
‘I can’t help it,’ said Mrs. Corney.
And she sighed again.
‘This is a very comfortable
room, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble looking
round. ‘Another room, and this, ma’am,
would be a complete thing.’
‘It would be too much for one,’ murmured
‘But not for two, ma’am,’
rejoined Mr. Bumble, in soft accents. ’Eh,
Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when
the beadle said this; the beadle drooped his, to get
a view of Mrs. Corney’s face. Mrs. Corney,
with great propriety, turned her head away, and released
her hand to get at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly
replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.
‘The board allows you coals,
don’t they, Mrs. Corney?’ inquired the
beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.
‘And candles,’ replied
Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the pressure.
‘Coals, candles, and house-rent
free,’ said Mr. Bumble. ’Oh, Mrs.
Corney, what an Angel you are!’
The lady was not proof against this
burst of feeling. She sank into Mr. Bumble’s
arms; and that gentleman in his agitation, imprinted
a passionate kiss upon her chaste nose.
‘Such porochial perfection!’
exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously. ’You
know that Mr. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?’
‘Yes,’ replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.
‘He can’t live a week,
the doctor says,’ pursued Mr. Bumble. ’He
is the master of this establishment; his death will
cause a wacancy; that wacancy must be filled up.
Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a prospect this opens!
What a opportunity for a jining of hearts and housekeepings!’
Mrs. Corney sobbed.
‘The little word?’ said
Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful beauty.
‘The one little, little, little word, my blessed
‘Ye ye yes!’ sighed
out the matron.
‘One more,’ pursued the
beadle; ’compose your darling feelings for only
one more. When is it to come off?’
Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak:
and twice failed. At length summoning up courage,
she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble’s neck,
and said, it might be as soon as ever he pleased,
and that he was ’a irresistible duck.’
Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily
arranged, the contract was solemnly ratified in another
teacupful of the peppermint mixture; which was rendered
the more necessary, by the flutter and agitation of
the lady’s spirits. While it was being
disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the old
‘Very good,’ said that
gentleman, sipping his peppermint; ’I’ll
call at Sowerberry’s as I go home, and tell
him to send to-morrow morning. Was it that as
frightened you, love?’
‘It wasn’t anything particular,
dear,’ said the lady evasively.
‘It must have been something,
love,’ urged Mr. Bumble. ’Won’t
you tell your own B.?’
‘Not now,’ rejoined the
lady; ’one of these days. After we’re
‘After we’re married!’
exclaimed Mr. Bumble. ’It wasn’t
any impudence from any of them male paupers as ’
‘No, no, love!’ interposed the lady, hastily.
‘If I thought it was,’
continued Mr. Bumble; ’if I thought as any one
of ’em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that
lovely countenance ’
‘They wouldn’t have dared
to do it, love,’ responded the lady.
‘They had better not!’
said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. ’Let
me see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would
presume to do it; and I can tell him that he wouldn’t
do it a second time!’
Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation,
this might have seemed no very high compliment to
the lady’s charms; but, as Mr. Bumble accompanied
the threat with many warlike gestures, she was much
touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested,
with great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.
The dove then turned up his coat-collar,
and put on his cocked hat; and, having exchanged a
long and affectionate embrace with his future partner,
once again braved the cold wind of the night:
merely pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers’
ward, to abuse them a little, with the view of satisfying
himself that he could fill the office of workhouse-master
with needful acerbity. Assured of his qualifications,
Mr. Bumble left the building with a light heart, and
bright visions of his future promotion: which
served to occupy his mind until he reached the shop
of the undertaker.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having
gone out to tea and supper: and Noah Claypole
not being at any time disposed to take upon himself
a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary
to a convenient performance of the two functions of
eating and drinking, the shop was not closed, although
it was past the usual hour of shutting-up. Mr.
Bumble tapped with his cane on the counter several
times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding
a light shining through the glass-window of the little
parlour at the back of the shop, he made bold to peep
in and see what was going forward; and when he saw
what was going forward, he was not a little surprised.
The cloth was laid for supper; the
table was covered with bread and butter, plates and
glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the
upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently
in an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of
the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and
a mass of buttered bread in the other. Close
beside him stood Charlotte, opening oysters from a
barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow,
with remarkable avidity. A more than ordinary
redness in the region of the young gentleman’s
nose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted
that he was in a slight degree intoxicated; these
symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish with
which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a
strong appreciation of their cooling properties, in
cases of internal fever, could have sufficiently accounted.
‘Here’s a delicious fat
one, Noah, dear!’ said Charlotte; ’try
him, do; only this one.’
‘What a delicious thing is a
oyster!’ remarked Mr. Claypole, after he had
swallowed it. ’What a pity it is, a number
of ’em should ever make you feel uncomfortable;
isn’t it, Charlotte?’
‘It’s quite a cruelty,’ said Charlotte.
‘So it is,’ acquiesced Mr. Claypole.
‘An’t yer fond of oysters?’
‘Not overmuch,’ replied
Charlotte. ’I like to see you eat ’em,
Noah dear, better than eating ’em myself.’
‘Lor!’ said Noah, reflectively; ‘how
‘Have another,’ said Charlotte.
’Here’s one with such a beautiful, delicate
‘I can’t manage any more,’
said Noah. ’I’m very sorry.
Come here, Charlotte, and I’ll kiss yer.’
‘What!’ said Mr. Bumble,
bursting into the room. ‘Say that again,
Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid
her face in her apron. Mr. Claypole, without
making any further change in his position than suffering
his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in
‘Say it again, you wile, owdacious
fellow!’ said Mr. Bumble. ’How dare
you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you
encourage him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!’
exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strong indignation.
‘I didn’t mean to do it!’
said Noah, blubbering. ’She’s always
a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.’
‘Oh, Noah,’ cried Charlotte, reproachfully.
‘Yer are; yer know yer are!’
retorted Noah. ‘She’s always a-doin’
of it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin,
please, sir; and makes all manner of love!’
‘Silence!’ cried Mr. Bumble,
sternly. ’Take yourself downstairs, ma’am.
Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till
your master comes home, at your peril; and, when he
does come home, tell him that Mr. Bumble said he was
to send a old woman’s shell after breakfast
to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!’
cried Mr. Bumble, holding up his hands. ’The
sin and wickedness of the lower orders in this porochial
district is frightful! If Parliament don’t
take their abominable courses under consideration,
this country’s ruined, and the character of
the peasantry gone for ever!’ With these words,
the beadle strode, with a lofty and gloomy air, from
the undertaker’s premises.
And now that we have accompanied him
so far on his road home, and have made all necessary
preparations for the old woman’s funeral, let
us set on foot a few inquires after young Oliver Twist,
and ascertain whether he be still lying in the ditch
where Toby Crackit left him.