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“ Ain't you afraid of it, sir? Ain't you a trembling while I speak, sir ?" said Mr. Bumble.
“ No!" replied Oliver, boldly.
An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit, and was in the habit of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not a little. He stepped back from the keyhole, drew himself up to his full height, and looked from one to another of the three bystanders in mute astonish. ment.
“Oh, you know, Mr. Bumble, he must be mad,” said Mrs. Sower. berry. “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 deep meditation ; "it's meat.'
“ What!” exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.
“ Meat, ma'am, meat,” replied Bumble with stern emphasis. “You've overfed him, ma'am. You've raised a artificial soul and spirit in him, ma'am, unbecoming a person of his condition, as the board, Mrs. Sower. berry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. What have pau. pers to do with soul or spirit either? It's quite enough that we let 'em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, this would never have happened.
"Dear, dear!" ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyes to the kitchen ceiling. “ This comes of being liberal!"
The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver had consisted in a pro. fuse bestowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends which nobody else would eat; so that there was a great deal of meekness and selt.devo. tion in her voluntarily remaining 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 the cellar for a day or so, till he's a little starved down, and then to take him out, and keep him on gruel all through his apprenticeship. He comes of a bad family-excitable natures, Mrs. Sower. berry. Both the nurse and doctor said that that mother of his made her way here against difficulties and pain that would have killed any well.disposed woman weeks before."
At this point of Mr. Bumble's discourse, Oliver just hearing enough to know that some further allusion was being made to his mother, re. commenced kicking with a violence which rendered every other sound inaudible. Sowerberry returned at this juncture, and Oliver's offence having been explained to him, with such exaggerations as the ladies thought best calculated to rouse his ire, he unlocked the cellar door in a twinkling, and dragged his rebellious apprentice out by the collar.
Oliver's clothes had been torn in the beating he had received: his face was bruised and scratched, and his hair scattered over his forehead. The angry flush had not disappeared, however; and when he was pulled out of his prison, he scowled boldly on Noah, and looked quite undismayed.
"Now, you're a nice young fellow, ain't you ?" said Sowerberry, giving Oliver a shake, and a sound box on the ear.
" He called my mother names," replied Oliver, sullenly.
“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.
This flood of tears left Sowerberry no alternative. If he had hesitated for one instant to punish Oliver most severely, it must be quite clear to every experienced reader that he would have been, according to all precedents in disputes of matrimony established, a brute an unnatural husband, an insulting creature, a base imitation of a man, and various other agreeable characters too numerous for recital within the limits of this chapter. To do him justice, he was, as far as his power went,-it was not very extensive,kindly disposed towards the boy ; perhaps because it was to his interest to be so, perhaps because his wife disliked him. The flood of lears, however, left bim no resource ; so he at once gave him a drubbing, which satisfied even Mrs. Sower. berry herself, and rendered Mr. Bumble's subsequent application of the parochial cane rather unnecessary. For the rest of the day he was shut up in the 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 means complimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the room, and amidst the jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte, ordered him up stairs to his dismal bed.
It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillness of the gloomy workshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to the feel. ings which the day's treatment may be supposed likely to have awakened in a mere child. He had listened to their taunts with a look of dogged contempt, he had borne the lash without a cry, for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would have kept down a shriek to the last, if they had roasted him alive. But, now that there were pone 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 credit of 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 was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet, and hav. ing gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, gently undid the fastenings of the door and looked abroad.
It was a cold dark night. The stars seemed to the boy's eyes further from the earth than he had ever seen them before ; there was no wind, and the sombre shadows thrown by the trees on the earth looked sepulchral and death-like, from being so still. He softly reclosed the door, and having availed himself of the expiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the few articles of 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 the shutters Oliver rose, and again unbarred the door. One timid look around,-one moment's pause of hesitation,—he had closed it behind him, and was in the
open street. He looked to the right and to the left, uncertain whither to fly. He remembered to have seen the wagons as they went out, toiling up the hill ; he took the same route, and arriving at a footpath across the fields, VOL. I.
which he thought after some distance led out again into the road, struck into it, and walked 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 lay directly in front of the cottage. His heart beat quickly when he bethought himself of this, and he half resolved to turn back. He had come a long way though, and should lose a great deal of time by doing so. Besides, it was so early 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 that early hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into the gar. den. A child was weeding one of the little beds ; and, as he stopped, he raised his pale face, and disclosed the 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 little friend 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 arm between the rails to greet him. “ Is any one up ?"
“Nobody but me,” replied the child.
“ You mustn't say you saw me, Dick," said Oliver ; “ I am running away. They heat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek my fortune some long way off
, I don't know where. How pale you are!" “I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,” replied the child with a faint smile. “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 you again, 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 the doctor 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 finging 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 Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head ; and through all the struggles and sufferings of his after life, through all the troubles and changes of many weary years, he never once forgot it.
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH.
OLIVER WALKS TO LONDON, AND ENCOUNTERS ON THE ROAD A STRANGE SORT OF
OLIVER reached the stile at which the by-path terminated, and once more gained the high-road. It was eight o'clock, now; and, though he was nearly five miles away from the town, he ran, and hid behind the hedges by turns, till noon, fearing that he might be pursued and overtaken. Then he sat down to rest at the side of a mile-stone, and began to think for the first time where he had better go and try to live.
The stone by which he was seated, bore in large characters an inti. mation that it was just seventy miles from that spot to London. The name awakened a new train of ideas in the boy's mind. London !
that great large place !--nobody-not even Mr. Bumble—could ever find him there. "He had often heard the old men in the workhouse, too, say that no lad of spirit need want in London, and that there were ways of living in that vast city which those who had been bred up in country parts had no idea of. It was the very place for a homeless boy, who must die in the streets unless some one helped him. As these things passed through his thoughts, he jumped upon his feet, and again walked forward.
He had diminished the distance between himself and London by full four miles more, before he recollected how much he must undergo ere he could hope to reach his place of destination. As this consideration forced itself upon him, he slackened his pace a little, and meditated upon his means of getting there. He had a crust of bread, a coarse shirt, and two pair of stockings in his bundle ; and a penny-a gift of Sowerberry's after some funeral in which he had acquitted himself more than ordinary well—in his pocket. “A clean shirt,” thought Oli. ver, “is a very comfortable thing,—very; and so are two pairs of darned stockings, and so is a penny; but they are small helps to a sixty-five miles' walk in winter time.' But Oliver's thoughts, like those of most other people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out his difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest any feasible mode of surmounting them; so, after a good deal of thinking to no particular purpose, he changed his little bundle over to the other shoulder, and trudged on.
Oliver walked twenty miles that day; and all that time tasted nothing but the crust of dry bread, and a few draughts of water which begged at the cottage-doors by the road-side. When night came, he turned into a meadow, and creeping close under a hay-rick, determined to lie there till morning. He felt frightened at first, for the wind moaned dismally over the empty fields, and he was cold and hungry, and more alone than he had ever felt before. Being very tired with his walk, however, he soon fell asleep and forgot his troubles.
He felt cold and stiff when he got up next morning, and so hungry that he was obliged to exchange the penny for a small loaf in the very first village through which he passed. He had walked no more than twelve miles when night closed in again ; for his feet were sore, and his legs so weak that they trembled beneath him. Another night pass ed in the bleak damp air only made him worse ; and, when he set for. ward on his journey next morning, he could bardly crawl along.
He waited at the bottom of a steep hill till a stage.coach came up, and then begged of the outside passengers; but there were very few who took any notice of him, and, even those, told him to wait :ill they got to the top of the hill, and then let them see how far he could run for a half penny.
Poor Oliver tried to keep up with the coach a little way, but was unable to do it, by reason of his fatigued and sore feet. When the outsides saw this, they put their halfpence back into their pockets again, declaring that he was an idle young dog, and didn't deserve anything; and the coach rattled away, and left only a cloud of dust behind.
In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up, warning all persons who begged within the district that they would be sent to jail, which frightened Oliver very much, and made him very glad to get out of them with all possible expedition. In others he would stand about the inn-yards, and look mournfully at every one who passed ; a pro
ceeding which generally terminated in the landlady's ordering one of the post-boys who were lounging about, to drive that strange boy out of the place, for she was sure he had come to steal something. If he begged at a farmer's house, ten to one but they threatened to set the dog on him; and when he showed his nose in a shop, they talked about the beadle, which brought Oliver's heart up into his mouth,—very often the only thing he had there, for many hours together.
In fact, if it had not been for a good-hearted turnpike-man, and a benevolent old lady, Oliver's troubles would have been shortened by the very same process which put an end to his mother's ; in other words, he would most assuredly have fallen dead upon the king's highway. But the turnpike.man gave him a meal of bread and cheese ; and the old lady, who had a shipwrecked grandson wandering barefooted in some distant part of the earth, took pity upon the poor orphan, and gave him what little she could—and more—with such kind and gentle words, and such tears of sympathy and compassion, that they sank deeper into Oliver's soul than all the sufferings he had ever undergone.
Early on the seventh morning after he had left his native place, Oliver limped slowly into the little town of Barnet. The window-shutters were closed, the street was empty, not a soul had awakened to the business of the day. The sun was rising in all his splendid beauty, but the light only seemed to show the boy his own lonesomeness and desolation as he sat with bleeding feet and covered with dust upon a cold door-step.
By degrees the shutters were opened, the window-blinds were drawn up, and people began passing to and fro. Some few stopped to gaze at Oliver for a moment or two, or turned round to stare at him as they hurried by; but none relieved him, or troubled themselves to inquire how he came there. He had no heart to beg, and there he sat.
He had been crouching on the step for some time, gazing listlessly at the coaches as they passed through, and thinking how strange it seemed that they could do with ease in a few hours what it had taken him a whole week of courage and determination beyond his years to accomplish, when he was roused by observing that a boy who had passed him care. lessly some minutes before, had returned, and was now surveying him most earnestly from the opposite side of the way. He took little heed of this at first, but the boy remained in the same attitude of close observation so long, that Oliver raised his head, and returned his steady look. Upon this, the boy crossed over, and, walking close up to Oliver, said,
“Hullo! my covey, what's the row?"
The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer was about his own age, but one of the queerest-looking boys ihat Oliver had
He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough, and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see ; but he had got about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age, with rather bow-legs, and little sharp ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so slightly that it threatened to fall off every moment, and would have done so very often if the wearer had not had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back half way up his arm to get his hands out of the sleeves, apparently with the ultimate view of thrı isting them into the pockets of his corduroy trowsers, for there he Hept them. He