Oliver Twist

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CHAPTER1

I TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH Among othe r public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wi t, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I n eed not trou ble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business a t all events; the item of morta lity whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter. For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is 2 of 789 Oliver Twist somewhat more than p robable that these memoirs would never have a ppeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country. Although I am not disp osed to mai ntain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say tha t in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver T wist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respirati on,?a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock ma ttress, rather un equally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doct ors of profound wi sdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There b eing nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an 3 of 789 Oliver Twist unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nat ure fought out the poi nt between them. The r esult was, th at, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cr y as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter. As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of hi s lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articul ated the words, ?Let me see the c hild, and die.? The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub alternately. As the young woman spoke, he rose, and advancing to the bed?s head, said, with more kindness than might have been expected of him: ?Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.? ?Lor bless her dear heart, no!? interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the 4 of 789 Oliver Twist contents of which she had b een tasting in a cor ner with evident satisf action. ?Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirte en children of her own, and all on ?em dead except two, and th em in the wurkus with me, she?ll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there?s a dear young lamb do.? Apparently this con solatory perspective of a mo ther?s prospects fai led in producing its d ue effect. Th e patient shook her head, and stretched out her hand towards the child. The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passi onately on i ts forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back?and died. They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort. They had been strangers too long. ?It?s all over, Mrs. Thin gummy!? sai d the surgeon at last. ?Ah, poor dear, so it is!? said the nurse, picking up the cork of the green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she stooped to take up the child. ?Poor dear!? 5 of 789 Oliver Twist ?You needn?t mind sendi ng up to me, if the child cries, nurse,? said the surgeon, putting on his gloves w ith great deliberation. ?It?s very likely it WILL be tro ublesome. Give it a little gruel if it is.? He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on his way to the door, added, ?She was a good-looking girl, too; where did s he come from?? ?She was brought here last night,? replied the old woman, ?by the overseer?s order. She was found lying in the street. S he had wal ked some d istance, for her shoes were worn t o pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.? The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand. ?The old story,? he sa id, shaking his head: ?no wedding-ring, I see. Ah! Good-night!? The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on a low chair before the fire, and proceeded t o dress the infant. What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only cov ering, he m ight have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it wo uld have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assig ned him 6 of 789 Oliver Twist his proper stati on in society. But now that he w as enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into hi s place at once?a parish child?the orphan of a workhouse?the humble, half-starved drudge?to be cuffed and buffeted through the world?despised by all, and pitied by none. Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orp han, left to th e tender mercies of church- wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder. 7 of 789 Oliver Twist
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