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Charles Dickens > Oliver Twist > Chapter III

Oliver Twist

Chapter III


For a week after the commission of the impious and profane
offence of asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in
the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by the
wisdom and mercy of the board. It appears, at first sight not
unreasonable to suppose, that, if he had entertained a becoming
feeling of respect for the prediction of the gentleman in the
white waistcoat, he would have established that sage individual's
prophetic character, once and for ever, by tying one end of his
pocket-handkerchief to a hook in the wall, and attaching himself
to the other. To the performance of this feat, however, there
was one obstacle: namely, that pocket-handkerchiefs being
decided articles of luxury, had been, for all future times and
ages, removed from the noses of paupers by the express order of
the board, in council assembled: solemnly given and pronounced
under their hands and seals. There was a still greater obstacle
in Oliver's youth and childishness. He only cried bitterly all
day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread his little
hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in
the corner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start
and tremble, and drawing himself closer and closer to the wall,
as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the
gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.

Let it not be supposed by the enemies of 'the system,' that,
during the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was
denied the benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the
advantages of religious consolation. As for exercise, it was
nice cold weather, and he was allowed to perform his ablutions
every morning under the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of
Mr. Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a
tingling sensation to pervade his frame, by repeated applications
of the cane. As for society, he was carried every other day into
the hall where the boys dined, and there sociably flogged as a
public warning and example. And so for from being denied the
advantages of religious consolation, he was kicked into the same
apartment every evening at prayer-time, and there permitted to
listen to, and console his mind with, a general supplication of
the boys, containing a special clause, therein inserted by
authority of the board, in which they entreated to be made good,
virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from the
sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly
set forth to be under the exclusive patronage and protection of
the powers of wickedness, and an article direct from the
manufactory of the very Devil himself.

It chanced one morning, while Oliver's affairs were in this
auspicious and confortable state, that Mr. Gamfield,
chimney-sweep, went his way down the High Street, deeply
cogitating in his mind his ways and means of paying certain
arrears of rent, for which his landlord had become rather
pressing. Mr. Gamfield's most sanguine estimate of his finances
could not raise them within full five pounds of the desired
amount; and, in a species of arthimetical desperation, he was
alternately cudgelling his brains and his donkey, when passing
the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate.

'Wo--o!' said Mr. Gamfield to the donkey.

The donkey was in a state of profound abstraction: wondering,
probably, whether he was destined to be regaled with a
cabbage-stalk or two when he had disposed of the two sacks of
soot with which the little cart was laden; so, without noticing
the word of command, he jogged onward.

Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkey
generally, but more particularly on his eyes; and, running after
him, bestowed a blow on his head, which would inevitably have
beaten in any skull but a donkey's. Then, catching hold of the
bridle, he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminder
that he was not his own master; and by these means turned him
round. He then gave him another blow on the head, just to stun
him till he came back again. Having completed these
arrangements, he walked up to the gate, to read the bill.

The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gate
with his hands behind him, after having delivered himself of some
profound sentiments in the board-room. Having witnessed the
little dispute between Mr. Gamfield and the donkey, he smiled
joyously when that person came up to read the bill, for he saw at
once that Mr. Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver
Twist wanted. Mr. Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the
document; for five pounds was just the sum he had been wishing
for; and, as to the boy with which it was encumbered, Mr.
Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of the workhouse was, well
knew he would be a nice small pattern, just the very thing for
register stoves. So, he spelt the bill through again, from
beginning to end; and then, touching his fur cap in token of
humility, accosted the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to 'prentis,' said Mr.

'Ay, my man,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with a
condescending smile. 'What of him?'

'If the parish vould like him to learn a right pleasant trade, in
a good 'spectable chimbley-sweepin' bisness,' said Mr. Gamfield,
'I wants a 'prentis, and I am ready to take him.'

'Walk in,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr.
Gamfield having lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow
on the head, and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to
run away in his absence, followed the gentleman with the white
waistcoat into the room where Oliver had first seen him.

'It's a nasty trade,' said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had again
stated his wish.

'Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,' said
another gentleman.

'That's acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in the
chimbley to make 'em come down again,' said Gamfield; 'that's all
smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain't o' no use at all in
making a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and
that's wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy,
Gen'l'men, and there's nothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em
come down vith a run. It's humane too, gen'l'men, acause, even
if they've stuck in the chimbley, roasting their feet makes 'em
struggle to hextricate theirselves.'

The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by
this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look
from Mr. Limbkins. The board then procedded to converse among
themselves for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the
words 'saving of expenditure,' 'looked well in the accounts,'
'have a printed report published,' were alone audible. These
only chanced to be heard, indeed, or account of their being very
frequently repeated with great emphasis.

At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board,
having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins

'We have considered your proposition, and we don't approve of

'Not at all,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'Decidedly not,' added the other members.

As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation
of having bruised three or four boys to death already, it
occurred to him that the board had, perhaps, in some
unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that this
extraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings. It
was very unlike their general mode of doing business, if they
had; but still, as he had no particular wish to revive the
rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, and walked slowly from
the table.

'So you won't let me have him, gen'l'men?' said Mr. Gamfield,
pausing near the door.

'No,' replied Mr. Limbkins; 'at least, as it's a nasty business,
we think you ought to take something less than the premium we

Mr. Gamfield's countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he
returned to the table, and said,

'What'll you give, gen'l'men? Come! Don't be too hard on a poor
man. What'll you give?'

'I should say, three pound ten was plenty,' said Mr. Limbkins.

'Ten shillings too much,' said the gentleman in the white

'Come!' said Gamfield; 'say four pound, gen'l'men. Say four
pound, and you've got rid of him for good and all. There!'

'Three pound ten,' repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.

'Come! I'll split the diff'erence, gen'l'men, urged Gamfield.
'Three pound fifteen.'

'Not a farthing more,' was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.

'You're desperate hard upon me, gen'l'men, said Gamfield,

'Pooh! pooh! nonsense!' said the gentleman in the white
waistcoat. 'He'd be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium.
Take him, you silly fellow! He's just the boy for you. He wants
the stick, now and then: it'll do him good; and his board
needn't come very expensive, for he hasn't been overfed since he
was born. Ha! ha! ha!'

Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table, and,
observing a smile on all of them, gradually broke into a smile
himself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once
instructed that Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be
conveyed before the magistrate, for signature and approval, that
very afternoon.

In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his
excessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to
put himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very
unusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, with
his own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two
ounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliver
began to cry very piteously: thinking, not unaturally, that the
board must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose,
or they never would have begun to fatten him up in that way.

'Don't make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and be
thankful,' said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity.
'You're a going to be made a 'prentice of, Oliver.'

'A prentice, sir!' said the child, trembling.

'Yes, Oliver,' said Mr. Bumble. 'The kind and blessed gentleman
which is so amny parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of
your own: are a going to 'prentice you: and to set you up in
life, and make a man of you: although the expense to the parish
is three pound ten!--three pound ten, Oliver!--seventy
shillins--one hundred and forty sixpences!--and all for a naughty
orphan which noboday can't love.'

As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this
address in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child's
face, and he sobbed bitterly.

'Come,' said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it was
gratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence
had produced; 'Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of
your jacket, and don't cry into your gruel; that's a very foolish
action, Oliver.' It certainly was, for there was quite enough
water in it already.

On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that
all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say,
when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, that
he should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions
Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a
gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no
telling what would be done to him. When they arrived at the
office, he was shut up in a little room by himself, and
admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay there, until he came back to
fetch him.

There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an
hour. At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his
head, unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:

'Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.' As Mr. Bumble
said this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a
low voice, 'Mind what I told you, you young rascal!'

Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble's face at this somewhat
contradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his
offering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into an
adjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room,
with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with
powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while the
other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell
spectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr.
Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side; and Mr.
Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two
or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.

The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over
the little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, after
Oliver had been stationed by Mr. Bumble in front of the desk.

'This is the boy, your worship,' said Mr. Bumble.

The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his head
for a moment, and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve;
whereupon, the last-mentioned old gentleman woke up.

'Oh, is this the boy?' said the old gentleman.

'This is him, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Bow to the magistrate,
my dear.'

Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been
wondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates' powder,
whether all boards were born with that white stuff on their
heads, and were boards from thenceforth on that account.

'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I suppose he's fond of

'He doats on it, your worship,' replied Bumble; giving Oliver a
sly pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn't.

'And he WILL be a sweep, will he?' inquired the old gentleman.

'If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he'd run
away simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.

'And this man that's to be his master--you, sir--you'll treat him
well, and feed him, and do all that sort of thing, will you?'
said the old gentleman.

'When I says I will, I means I will,' replied Mr. Gamfield

'You're a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,
open-hearted man,' said the old gentleman: turning his
spectacles in the direction of the candidate for Oliver's
premium, whose villainous countenance was a regular stamped
receipt for cruelty. But the magistrate was half blind and half
childish, so he couldn't reasonably be expected to discern what
other people did.

'I hope I am, sir,' said Mr. Gamfield, with an ugly leer.

'I have no doubt you are, my friend,' replied the old gentleman:
fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking about
him for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had
been where the old gentleman though it was, he would have dipped
his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have
been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be
immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course,
that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and
happening in the course of his search to look straight before
him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver
Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of
Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future
master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too
palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from
Oliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a
cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

'My boy!' said the old gentleman, 'you look pale and alarmed.
What is the matter?'

'Stand a little away from him, Beadle,' said the other
magistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an
expression of interest. 'Now, boy, tell us what's the matter:
don't be afraid.'

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed
that they would order him back to the dark room-- that they would
starve him--beat him--kill him if they pleased--rather than send
him away with that dreadful man.

'Well!' said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with most
impressive solemnite. 'Well! of all the artful and designing
orphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most

'Hold your tongue, Beadle,' said the second old gentleman, when
Mr. Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.

'I beg your worship's pardon,' said Mr. Bumble, incredulous of
having heard aright. 'Did your worship speak to me?'

'Yes. Hold your tongue.'

Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered to
hold his tongue! A moral revolution!

The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at his
companion, he nodded significantly.

'We refuse to sanction these indentures,' said the old gentleman:

tossing aside the piece of parchment as he spoke.

'I hope,' stammered Mr. Limbkins: 'I hope the magistrates will
not form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of any
improper conduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.'

'The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion on
the matter,' said the second old gentleman sharply. 'Take the
boy back to the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems to
want it.'

That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat most
positively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would be
hung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain.
Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomy mystery, and said he wished
he might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfield replied, that he
wished he might come to him; which, although he agreed with the
beadle in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totaly
opposite description.

The next morning, the public were once informed that Oliver Twist
was again To Let, and that five pounds would be paid to anybody
who would take possession of him.

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