Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 38
It was a dull, close, overcast summer evening. The clouds, which had been threatening all
day, spread out in a dense and sluggish mass of vapour, already yielded large drops of
rain, and seemed to presage a violent thunder-storm, when Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, turning
out of the main street of the town, directed their course towards a scattered little colony
of ruinous houses, distant from it some mile and a-half, or thereabouts, and erected on a
low unwholesome swamp, bordering upon the river.
They were both wrapped in old and shabby outer garments, which might, perhaps, serve
the double purpose of protecting their persons from the rain, and sheltering them from
observation. The husband carried a lantern, from which, however, no light yet shone; and
trudged on, a few paces in front, as though--the way being dirty--to give his wife the
benefit of treading in his heavy footprints. They went on, in profound silence; every now
and then, Mr. Bumble relaxed his pace, and turned his head as if to make sure that his
helpmate was following; then, discovering that she was close at his heels, he mended his
rate of walking, and proceeded, at a considerable increase of speed, towards their place of
This was far from being a place of doubtful character; for it had long been known as the
residence of none but low ruffians, who, under various pretences of living by their labour,
subsisted chiefly on plunder and crime. It was a collection of mere hovels: some, hastily
built with loose bricks: others, of old worm-eaten ship-timber: jumbled together without
any attempt at order or arrangement, and planted, for the most part, within a few feet of
the river's bank. A few leaky boats drawn up on the mud, and made fast to the dwarf wall
which skirted it: and here and there an oar or coil of rope: appeared, at first, to indicate
that the inhabitants of these miserable cottages pursued some avocation on the river; but a
glance at the shattered and useless condition of the articles thus displayed, would have
led a passer-by, without much difficulty, to the conjecture that they were disposed there,
rather for the preservation of appearances, than with any view to their being actually
In the heart of this cluster of huts; and skirting the river, which its upper stories overhung;
stood a large building, formerly used as a manufactory of some kind. It had, in its day,
probably furnished employment to the inhabitants of the surrounding tenements. But it
had long since gone to ruin. The rat, the worm, and the action of the damp, had weakened
and rotted the piles on which it stood; and a considerable portion of the building had
already sunk down into the water; while the remainder, tottering and bending over the
dark stream, seemed to wait a favourable opportunity of following its old companion, and
involving itself in the same fate.
It was before this ruinous building that the worthy couple paused, as the first peal of
distant thunder reverberated in the air, and the rain commenced pouring violently down.