IN WHICH THE READER MAY PERCEIVE A
CONTRAST, NOT UNCOMMON IN MATRIMONIAL CASES
Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour,
with his eyes moodily fixed on the cheerless grate,
whence, as it was summer time, no brighter gleam proceeded,
than the reflection of certain sickly rays of the sun,
which were sent back from its cold and shining surface.
A paper fly-cage dangled from the ceiling, to which
he occasionally raised his eyes in gloomy thought;
and, as the heedless insects hovered round the gaudy
net-work, Mr. Bumble would heave a deep sigh, while
a more gloomy shadow overspread his countenance.
Mr. Bumble was meditating; it might be that the insects
brought to mind, some painful passage in his own past
Nor was Mr. Bumble’s gloom the
only thing calculated to awaken a pleasing melancholy
in the bosom of a spectator. There were not wanting
other appearances, and those closely connected with
his own person, which announced that a great change
had taken place in the position of his affairs.
The laced coat, and the cocked hat; where were they?
He still wore knee-breeches, and dark cotton stockings
on his nether limbs; but they were not the
breeches. The coat was wide-skirted; and in
that respect like the coat, but, oh how different!
The mighty cocked hat was replaced by a modest round
one. Mr. Bumble was no longer a beadle.
There are some promotions in life,
which, independent of the more substantial rewards
they offer, require peculiar value and dignity from
the coats and waistcoats connected with them.
A field-marshal has his uniform; a bishop his silk
apron; a counsellor his silk gown; a beadle his cocked
hat. Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle
of his hat and lace; what are they? Men.
Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes,
are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some
Mr. Bumble had married Mrs. Corney,
and was master of the workhouse. Another beadle
had come into power. On him the cocked hat, gold-laced
coat, and staff, had all three descended.
‘And to-morrow two months it
was done!’ said Mr. Bumble, with a sigh.
‘It seems a age.’
Mr. Bumble might have meant that he
had concentrated a whole existence of happiness into
the short space of eight weeks; but the sigh there
was a vast deal of meaning in the sigh.
‘I sold myself,’ said
Mr. Bumble, pursuing the same train of relection,
’for six teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and
a milk-pot; with a small quantity of second-hand furniture,
and twenty pound in money. I went very reasonable.
Cheap, dirt cheap!’
‘Cheap!’ cried a shrill
voice in Mr. Bumble’s ear: ’you would
have been dear at any price; and dear enough I paid
for you, Lord above knows that!’
Mr. Bumble turned, and encountered
the face of his interesting consort, who, imperfectly
comprehending the few words she had overheard of his
complaint, had hazarded the foregoing remark at a venture.
‘Mrs. Bumble, ma’am!’
said Mr. Bumble, with a sentimental sternness.
‘Well!’ cried the lady.
‘Have the goodness to look at
me,’ said Mr. Bumble, fixing his eyes upon her.
(If she stands such a eye as that,’ said Mr.
Bumble to himself, ’she can stand anything.
It is a eye I never knew to fail with paupers.
If it fails with her, my power is gone.’)
Whether an exceedingly small expansion
of eye be sufficient to quell paupers, who, being
lightly fed, are in no very high condition; or whether
the late Mrs. Corney was particularly proof against
eagle glances; are matters of opinion. The matter
of fact, is, that the matron was in no way overpowered
by Mr. Bumble’s scowl, but, on the contrary,
treated it with great disdain, and even raised a laugh
thereat, which sounded as though it were genuine.
On hearing this most unexpected sound,
Mr. Bumble looked, first incredulous, and afterwards
amazed. He then relapsed into his former state;
nor did he rouse himself until his attention was again
awakened by the voice of his partner.
‘Are you going to sit snoring
there, all day?’ inquired Mrs. Bumble.
‘I am going to sit here, as
long as I think proper, ma’am,’ rejoined
Mr. Bumble; ’and although I was not snoring,
I shall snore, gape, sneeze, laugh, or cry, as the
humour strikes me; such being my prerogative.’
sneered Mrs. Bumble, with ineffable contempt.
‘I said the word, ma’am,’
said Mr. Bumble. ’The prerogative of a
man is to command.’
‘And what’s the prerogative
of a woman, in the name of Goodness?’ cried
the relict of Mr. Corney deceased.
‘To obey, ma’am,’
thundered Mr. Bumble. ’Your late unfortunate
husband should have taught it you; and then, perhaps,
he might have been alive now. I wish he was,
Mrs. Bumble, seeing at a glance, that
the decisive moment had now arrived, and that a blow
struck for the mastership on one side or other, must
necessarily be final and conclusive, no sooner heard
this allusion to the dead and gone, than she dropped
into a chair, and with a loud scream that Mr. Bumble
was a hard-hearted brute, fell into a paroxysm of
But, tears were not the things to
find their way to Mr. Bumble’s soul; his heart
was waterproof. Like washable beaver hats that
improve with rain, his nerves were rendered stouter
and more vigorous, by showers of tears, which, being
tokens of weakness, and so far tacit admissions of
his own power, pleased and exalted him. He eyed
his good lady with looks of great satisfaction, and
begged, in an encouraging manner, that she should
cry her hardest: the exercise being looked upon,
by the faculty, as strongly conducive to health.
’It opens the lungs, washes
the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down
the temper,’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘So
As he discharged himself of this pleasantry,
Mr. Bumble took his hat from a peg, and putting it
on, rather rakishly, on one side, as a man might,
who felt he had asserted his superiority in a becoming
manner, thrust his hands into his pockets, and sauntered
towards the door, with much ease and waggishness depicted
in his whole appearance.
Now, Mrs. Corney that was, had tried
the tears, because they were less troublesome than
a manual assault; but, she was quite prepared to make
trial of the latter mode of proceeding, as Mr. Bumble
was not long in discovering.
The first proof he experienced of
the fact, was conveyed in a hollow sound, immediately
succeeded by the sudden flying off of his hat to the
opposite end of the room. This preliminary proceeding
laying bare his head, the expert lady, clasping him
tightly round the throat with one hand, inflicted
a shower of blows (dealt with singular vigour and
dexterity) upon it with the other. This done,
she created a little variety by scratching his face,
and tearing his hair; and, having, by this time, inflicted
as much punishment as she deemed necessary for the
offence, she pushed him over a chair, which was luckily
well situated for the purpose: and defied him
to talk about his prerogative again, if he dared.
‘Get up!’ said Mrs. Bumble,
in a voice of command. ’And take yourself
away from here, unless you want me to do something
Mr. Bumble rose with a very rueful
countenance: wondering much what something desperate
might be. Picking up his hat, he looked towards
‘Are you going?’ demanded Mrs. Bumble.
‘Certainly, my dear, certainly,’
rejoined Mr. Bumble, making a quicker motion towards
the door. ’I didn’t intend to I’m
going, my dear! You are so very violent, that
really I ’
At this instant, Mrs. Bumble stepped
hastily forward to replace the carpet, which had been
kicked up in the scuffle. Mr. Bumble immediately
darted out of the room, without bestowing another thought
on his unfinished sentence: leaving the late
Mrs. Corney in full possession of the field.
Mr. Bumble was fairly taken by surprise,
and fairly beaten. He had a decided propensity
for bullying: derived no inconsiderable pleasure
from the exercise of petty cruelty; and, consequently,
was (it is needless to say) a coward. This is
by no means a disparagement to his character; for
many official personages, who are held in high respect
and admiration, are the victims of similar infirmities.
The remark is made, indeed, rather in his favour
than otherwise, and with a view of impressing the
reader with a just sense of his qualifications for
But, the measure of his degradation
was not yet full. After making a tour of the
house, and thinking, for the first time, that the poor-laws
really were too hard on people; and that men who ran
away from their wives, leaving them chargeable to
the parish, ought, in justice to be visited with no
punishment at all, but rather rewarded as meritorious
individuals who had suffered much; Mr. Bumble came
to a room where some of the female paupers were usually
employed in washing the parish linen: when the
sound of voices in conversation, now proceeded.
‘Hem!’ said Mr. Bumble,
summoning up all his native dignity. ’These
women at least shall continue to respect the prerogative.
Hallo! hallo there! What do you mean by this
noise, you hussies?’
With these words, Mr. Bumble opened
the door, and walked in with a very fierce and angry
manner: which was at once exchanged for a most
humiliated and cowering air, as his eyes unexpectedly
rested on the form of his lady wife.
‘My dear,’ said Mr. Bumble,
‘I didn’t know you were here.’
‘Didn’t know I was here!’
repeated Mrs. Bumble. ’What do you
’I thought they were talking
rather too much to be doing their work properly, my
dear,’ replied Mr. Bumble: glancing distractedly
at a couple of old women at the wash-tub, who were
comparing notes of admiration at the workhouse-master’s
‘You thought they were
talking too much?’ said Mrs. Bumble. ’What
business is it of yours?’
‘Why, my dear ’ urged Mr. Bumble
‘What business is it of yours?’ demanded
Mrs. Bumble, again.
‘It’s very true, you’re
matron here, my dear,’ submitted Mr. Bumble;
‘but I thought you mightn’t be in the way
‘I’ll tell you what, Mr.
Bumble,’ returned his lady. ’We don’t
want any of your interference. You’re
a great deal too fond of poking your nose into things
that don’t concern you, making everybody in the
house laugh, the moment your back is turned, and making
yourself look like a fool every hour in the day.
Be off; come!’
Mr. Bumble, seeing with excruciating
feelings, the delight of the two old paupers, who
were tittering together most rapturously, hesitated
for an instant. Mrs. Bumble, whose patience brooked
no delay, caught up a bowl of soap-suds, and motioning
him towards the door, ordered him instantly to depart,
on pain of receiving the contents upon his portly
What could Mr. Bumble do? He
looked dejectedly round, and slunk away; and, as he
reached the door, the titterings of the paupers broke
into a shrill chuckle of irrepressible delight.
It wanted but this. He was degraded in their
eyes; he had lost caste and station before the very
paupers; he had fallen from all the height and pomp
of beadleship, to the lowest depth of the most snubbed
‘All in two months!’ said
Mr. Bumble, filled with dismal thoughts. ’Two
months! No more than two months ago, I was not
only my own master, but everybody else’s, so
far as the porochial workhouse was concerned, and
It was too much. Mr. Bumble
boxed the ears of the boy who opened the gate for
him (for he had reached the portal in his reverie);
and walked, distractedly, into the street.
He walked up one street, and down
another, until exercise had abated the first passion
of his grief; and then the revulsion of feeling made
him thirsty. He passed a great many public-houses;
but, at length paused before one in a by-way, whose
parlour, as he gathered from a hasty peep over the
blinds, was deserted, save by one solitary customer.
It began to rain, heavily, at the moment. This
determined him. Mr. Bumble stepped in; and ordering
something to drink, as he passed the bar, entered
the apartment into which he had looked from the street.
The man who was seated there, was
tall and dark, and wore a large cloak. He had
the air of a stranger; and seemed, by a certain haggardness
in his look, as well as by the dusty soils on his dress,
to have travelled some distance. He eyed Bumble
askance, as he entered, but scarcely deigned to nod
his head in acknowledgment of his salutation.
Mr. Bumble had quite dignity enough
for two; supposing even that the stranger had been
more familiar: so he drank his gin-and-water
in silence, and read the paper with great show of
pomp and circumstance.
It so happened, however: as it
will happen very often, when men fall into company
under such circumstances: that Mr. Bumble felt,
every now and then, a powerful inducement, which he
could not resist, to steal a look at the stranger:
and that whenever he did so, he withdrew his eyes,
in some confusion, to find that the stranger was at
that moment stealing a look at him. Mr. Bumble’s
awkwardness was enhanced by the very remarkable expression
of the stranger’s eye, which was keen and bright,
but shadowed by a scowl of distrust and suspicion,
unlike anything he had ever observed before, and repulsive
When they had encountered each other’s
glance several times in this way, the stranger, in
a harsh, deep voice, broke silence.
‘Were you looking for me,’
he said, ‘when you peered in at the window?’
‘Not that I am aware of, unless
you’re Mr. ’ Here Mr. Bumble
stopped short; for he was curious to know the stranger’s
name, and thought in his impatience, he might supply
‘I see you were not,’
said the stranger; an expression of quiet sarcasm
playing about his mouth; ’or you have known my
name. You don’t know it. I would
recommend you not to ask for it.’
‘I meant no harm, young man,’
observed Mr. Bumble, majestically.
‘And have done none,’ said the stranger.
Another silence succeeded this short
dialogue: which was again broken by the stranger.
‘I have seen you before, I think?’
said he. ’You were differently dressed
at that time, and I only passed you in the street,
but I should know you again. You were beadle
here, once; were you not?’
‘I was,’ said Mr. Bumble,
in some surprise; ‘porochial beadle.’
‘Just so,’ rejoined the
other, nodding his head. ’It was in that
character I saw you. What are you now?’
‘Master of the workhouse,’
rejoined Mr. Bumble, slowly and impressively, to check
any undue familiarity the stranger might otherwise
assume. ‘Master of the workhouse, young
’You have the same eye to your
own interest, that you always had, I doubt not?’
resumed the stranger, looking keenly into Mr. Bumble’s
eyes, as he raised them in astonishment at the question.
‘Don’t scruple to answer
freely, man. I know you pretty well, you see.’
‘I suppose, a married man,’
replied Mr. Bumble, shading his eyes with his hand,
and surveying the stranger, from head to foot, in evident
perplexity, ’is not more averse to turning an
honest penny when he can, than a single one.
Porochial officers are not so well paid that they
can afford to refuse any little extra fee, when it
comes to them in a civil and proper manner.’
The stranger smiled, and nodded his
head again: as much to say, he had not mistaken
his man; then rang the bell.
‘Fill this glass again,’
he said, handing Mr. Bumble’s empty tumbler to
the landlord. ‘Let it be strong and hot.
You like it so, I suppose?’
‘Not too strong,’ replied
Mr. Bumble, with a delicate cough.
‘You understand what that means,
landlord!’ said the stranger, drily.
The host smiled, disappeared, and
shortly afterwards returned with a steaming jorum:
of which, the first gulp brought the water into Mr.
‘Now listen to me,’ said
the stranger, after closing the door and window.
’I came down to this place, to-day, to find
you out; and, by one of those chances which the devil
throws in the way of his friends sometimes, you walked
into the very room I was sitting in, while you were
uppermost in my mind. I want some information
from you. I don’t ask you to give it for
nothing, slight as it is. Put up that, to begin
As he spoke, he pushed a couple of
sovereigns across the table to his companion, carefully,
as though unwilling that the chinking of money should
be heard without. When Mr. Bumble had scrupulously
examined the coins, to see that they were genuine,
and had put them up, with much satisfaction, in his
waistcoat-pocket, he went on:
‘Carry your memory back let
me see twelve years, last winter.’
‘It’s a long time,’
said Mr. Bumble. ‘Very good. I’ve
‘The scene, the workhouse.’
‘And the time, night.’
’And the place, the crazy hole,
wherever it was, in which miserable drabs brought
forth the life and health so often denied to themselves gave
birth to puling children for the parish to rear; and
hid their shame, rot ’em in the grave!’
‘The lying-in room, I suppose?’
said Mr. Bumble, not quite following the stranger’s
‘Yes,’ said the stranger. ‘A
boy was born there.’
‘A many boys,’ observed Mr. Bumble, shaking
his head, despondingly.
‘A murrain on the young devils!’
cried the stranger; ’I speak of one; a meek-looking,
pale-faced boy, who was apprenticed down here, to a
coffin-maker I wish he had made his coffin,
and screwed his body in it and who afterwards
ran away to London, as it was supposed.
‘Why, you mean Oliver!
Young Twist!’ said Mr. Bumble; ’I remember
him, of course. There wasn’t a obstinater
young rascal ’
‘It’s not of him I want
to hear; I’ve heard enough of him,’ said
the stranger, stopping Mr. Bumble in the outset of
a tirade on the subject of poor Oliver’s vices.
’It’s of a woman; the hag that nursed
his mother. Where is she?’
‘Where is she?’ said Mr.
Bumble, whom the gin-and-water had rendered facetious.
’It would be hard to tell. There’s
no midwifery there, whichever place she’s gone
to; so I suppose she’s out of employment, anyway.’
‘What do you mean?’ demanded the stranger,
‘That she died last winter,’ rejoined
The man looked fixedly at him when
he had given this information, and although he did
not withdraw his eyes for some time afterwards, his
gaze gradually became vacant and abstracted, and he
seemed lost in thought. For some time, he appeared
doubtful whether he ought to be relieved or disappointed
by the intelligence; but at length he breathed more
freely; and withdrawing his eyes, observed that it
was no great matter. With that he rose, as if
But Mr. Bumble was cunning enough;
and he at once saw that an opportunity was opened,
for the lucrative disposal of some secret in the possession
of his better half. He well remembered the night
of old Sally’s death, which the occurrences
of that day had given him good reason to recollect,
as the occasion on which he had proposed to Mrs. Corney;
and although that lady had never confided to him the
disclosure of which she had been the solitary witness,
he had heard enough to know that it related to something
that had occurred in the old woman’s attendance,
as workhouse nurse, upon the young mother of Oliver
Twist. Hastily calling this circumstance to mind,
he informed the stranger, with an air of mystery,
that one woman had been closeted with the old harridan
shortly before she died; and that she could, as he
had reason to believe, throw some light on the subject
of his inquiry.
‘How can I find her?’
said the stranger, thrown off his guard; and plainly
showing that all his fears (whatever they were) were
aroused afresh by the intelligence.
‘Only through me,’ rejoined Mr. Bumble.
‘When?’ cried the stranger, hastily.
‘To-morrow,’ rejoined Bumble.
‘At nine in the evening,’
said the stranger, producing a scrap of paper, and
writing down upon it, an obscure address by the water-side,
in characters that betrayed his agitation; ’at
nine in the evening, bring her to me there.
I needn’t tell you to be secret. It’s
With these words, he led the way to
the door, after stopping to pay for the liquor that
had been drunk. Shortly remarking that their
roads were different, he departed, without more ceremony
than an emphatic repetition of the hour of appointment
for the following night.
On glancing at the address, the parochial
functionary observed that it contained no name.
The stranger had not gone far, so he made after him
to ask it.
‘What do you want?’ cried
the man, turning quickly round, as Bumble touched
him on the arm. ‘Following me?’
‘Only to ask a question,’
said the other, pointing to the scrap of paper.
‘What name am I to ask for?’
‘Monks!’ rejoined the man; and strode