Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 24
It was no unfit messanger of death, who had disturbed the quiet of the matron's room. Her
body was bent by age; her limbs trembled with palsy; her face, distorted into a mumbling
leer, resembled more the grotesque shaping of some wild pencil, than the work of
Nature's hand.
Alas! How few of Nature's faces are left alone to gladden us with their beauty! The cares,
and sorrows, and hungerings, of the world, change them as they change hearts; and it is
only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold for ever, that the troubled clouds
pass off, and leave Heaven's surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of
the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten expression
of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful, do
they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood, kneel by the
coffin's side in awe, and see the Angel even upon earth.
The old crone tottered alone the passages, and up the stairs, muttering some indistinct
answers to the chidings of her companion; being at length compelled to pause for breath,
she gave the light into her hand, and remained behind to follow as she might: while the
more nimble superior made her way to the room where the sick woman lay.
It was a bare garret-room, with a dim light burning at the farther end. There was another
old woman watching by the bed; the parish apothecary's apprentice was standing by the
fire, making a toothpick out of a quill.
'Cold night, Mrs. Corney,' said this young gentleman, as the matron entered.
'Very cold, indeed, sir,' replied the mistress, in her most civil tones, and dropping a
curtsey as she spoke.
'You should get better coals out of your contractors,' said the apothecary's deputy,
breaking a lump on the top of the fire with the rusty poker; 'these are not at all the sort of
thing for a cold night.'
'They're the board's choosing, sir,' returned the matron. 'The least they could do, would be
to keep us pretty warm: for our places are hard enough.'
The conversation was here interrupted by a moan from the sick woman.
'Oh!' said the young mag, turning his face towards the bed, as if he had previously quite
forgotten the patient, 'it's all U.P. there, Mrs. Corney.'
'It is, is it, sir?' asked the matron.