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Oliver Twist
by [?]

Oliver Twist was the child of an unknown woman who died in the workhouse of an English village, almost as soon as her babe drew his first breath. The mother’s name being unknown, the workhouse officials called the child Oliver Twist, under which title he grew up. For nine years he was farmed out at a branch poorhouse, where with twenty or thirty other children he bore all the miseries consequent on neglect, abuse, and starvation. He was then removed to the workhouse proper to be taught a useful trade.

His ninth birthday found him a pale, thin child, diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference, but possessed of a good sturdy spirit, which was not broken by the policy of the officials who tried to get as much work out of the paupers as possible, and to keep them on as scant a supply of food as would sustain life.

The boys were fed in a large stone hall, with a copper at one end, out of which the gruel was ladled at meal-times. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more–except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides. The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation, they would sit staring at the copper, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; sucking their fingers, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon.

Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild that one boy hinted darkly that unless he had another basin of gruel a day, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him. He had a wild, hungry, eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master, and ask for more, and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The gruel was served out, and a long grace was said. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more!”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

“What?” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked for the beadle, and when that gentleman appeared, an animated discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to any body who would take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words, five pounds, and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.

Mr. Sowerberry, the parish undertaker, finally applied for the prize, and carried Oliver away with him, which, for the poor boy, was a matter of falling from the frying pan into the fire, and in his short career as undertaker’s assistant he even sighed for the workhouse,–miserable as his life there had been. At the undertaker’s, Oliver’s bed was in the shop. The atmosphere seemed tainted with the smell of coffins. The recess behind the counter in which his mattress was thrust, looked like a grave. His food was broken bits left from the meals of others, and his constant companion was an older boy, Noah Claypole, who, although a charity boy himself, was not a workhouse orphan, and therefore considered himself in a position above Oliver. He made Oliver’s days hideous with his abuse, which the younger boy bore as quietly as he could, until the day when Noah made a sneering remark about Oliver’s dead mother. That was too much. Crimson with fury, Oliver started up, seized Noah by the throat, shook him till his teeth chattered, and then with one heavy blow, felled him to the ground.