Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 21
It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street; blowing and raining hard; and
the clouds looking dull and stormy. The night had been very wet: large pools of water
had collected in the road: and the kennels were overflowing. There was a faint
glimmering of the coming day in the sky; but it rather aggrevated than relieved the gloom
of the scene: the sombre light only serving to pale that which the street lamps afforded,
without shedding any warmer or brighter tints upon the wet house-tops, and dreary
streets. There appeared to be nobody stirring in that quarter of the town; the windows of
the houses were all closely shut; and the streets through which they passed, were
noiseless and empty.
By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the day had fairly begun to
break. Many of the lamps were already extinguished; a few country waggons were slowly
toiling on, towards London; now and then, a stage-coach, covered with mud, rattled
briskly by: the driver bestowing, as he passed, and admonitory lash upon the heavy
waggoner who, by keeping on the wrong side of the road, had endangered his arriving at
the office, a quarter of a minute after his time. The public-houses, with gas-lights burning
inside, were already open. By degrees, other shops began to be unclosed, and a few
scattered people were met with. Then, came straggling groups of labourers going to their
work; then, men and women with fish-baskets on their heads; donkey-carts laden with
vegetables; chaise-carts filled with live-stock or whole carcasses of meat; milk-women
with pails; an unbroken concourse of people, trudging out with various supplies to the
eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached the City, the noise and traffic gradually
increased; when they threaded the streets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had
swelled into a roar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely to be, till night
came on again, and the busy morning of half the London population had begun.
Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury square, Mr. Sikes
struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into Barbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into
Smithfield; from which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver
Twist with amazement.
It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire;
a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with
the fog, which seemd to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in
the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the
vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of
beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys,
thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the
whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the
bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts,
oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from
every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the