Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 4
In great families, when an advantageous place cannot be obtained, either in possession,
reversion, remainder, or expectancy, for the young man who is growing up, it is a very
general custom to send him to sea. The board, in imitation of so wise and salutary an
example, took counsel together on the expediency of shipping off Oliver Twist, in some
small trading vessel bound to a good unhealthy port. This suggested itself as the very best
thing that could possibly be done with him: the probability being, that the skipper would
flog him to death, in a playful mood, some day after dinner, or would knock his brains
out with an iron bar; both pastimes being, as is pretty generally known, very favourite
and common recreations among gentleman of that class. The more the case presented
itself to the board, in this point of view, the more manifold the advantages of the step
appeared; so, they came to the conclusion that the only way of providing for Oliver
effectually, was to send him to sea without delay.
Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminary inquiries, with the view of
finding out some captain or other who wanted a cabin-boy without any friends; and was
returning to the workhouse to communicate the result of his mission; when he
encountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry, the parochial undertaker.
Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit of threadbare black,
with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes to answer. His features were
not naturally intended to wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rather given to
professional jocosity. His step was elastic, and his face betokened inward pleasantry, as
he advanced to Mr. Bumble, and shook him cordially by the hand.
'I have taken the measure of the two women that died last night, Mr. Bumble,' said the
'You'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' said the beadle, as he thrust his thumb and
forefinger into the proferred snuff-box of the undertaker: which was an ingenious little
model of a patent coffin. 'I say you'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' repeated Mr.
Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in a friendly manner, with his cane.
'Think so?' said the undertaker in a tone which half admitted and half disputed the
probability of the event. 'The prices allowed by the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.'
'So are the coffins,' replied the beadle: with precisely as near an approach to a laugh as a
great official ought to indulge in.
Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he ought to be; and laughed a long
time without cessation. 'Well, well, Mr. Bumble,' he said at length, 'there's no denying
that, since the new system of feeding has come in, the coffins are something narrower