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Oliver Twist

Chapter 23
WHICH CONTAINS THE SUBSTANCE OF A PLEASANT CONVERSATION
BETWEEN MR. BUMBLE AND A LADY; AND SHOWS THAT EVEN A
BEADLE MAY BE SUSCEPTIBLE ON SOME POINTS
The night was bitter cold. The snow lay on the ground, frozen into a hard thick crust, so
that only the heaps that had drifted into byways and corners were affected by the sharp
wind that howled abroad: which, as if expending increased fury on such prey as it found,
caught it savagely up in clouds, and, whirling it into a thousand misty eddies, scattered it
in air. Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw
round the bright fire and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless, starving
wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare
streets, at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open
them in a more bitter world.
Such was the aspect of out-of-doors affairs, when Mr. Corney, the matron of the
workhouse to which our readers have been already introduced as the birthplace of Oliver
Twist, sat herself down before a cheerful fire in her own little room, and glanced, with no
small degree of complacency, at a small round table: on which stood a tray of
corresponding size, furnished with all necessary materials for the most grateful meal that
matrons enjoy. In fact, Mrs. Corney was about to solace herself with a cup of tea. As she
glanced from the table to the fireplace, where the smallest of all possible kettles was
singing a small song in a small voice, her inward satisfaction evidently increased,--so
much so, indeed, that Mrs. Corney smiled.
'Well!' said the matron, leaning her elbow on the table, and looking reflectively at the
fire; 'I'm sure we have all on us a great deal to be grateful for! A great deal, if we did but
know it. Ah!'
Mrs. Corney shook her head mournfully, as if deploring the mental blindness of those
paupers who did not know it; and thrusting a silver spoon (private property) into the
inmost recesses of a two-ounce tin tea-caddy, proceeded to make the tea.
How slight a thing will disturb the equanimity of our frail minds! The black teapot, being
very small and easily filled, ran over while Mrs. Corney was moralising; and the water
slightly scalded Mrs. Corney's hand.
'Drat the pot!' said the worthy matron, setting it down very hastily on the hob; 'a little
stupid thing, that only holds a couple of cups! What use is it of, to anybody! Except,' said
Mrs. Corney, pausing, 'except to a poor desolate creature like me. Oh dear!'
With these words, the matron dropped into her chair, and, once more resting her elbow on
the table, thought of her solitary fate. The small teapot, and the single cup, had awakened
in her mind sad recollections of Mr. Corney (who had not been dead more than five-and-
twenty years); and she was overpowered.
 
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