‚Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,‘ inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, ‚to keep the parish officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon porochial business with the porochial orphans? Are you aweer, Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and a stipendiary?‘
‚I’m sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two of the dear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,‘ replied Mrs. Mann with great humility.
Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance. He had displayed the one, and vindicated the other. He relaxed.
‚Well, well, Mrs. Mann,‘ he replied in a calmer tone; ‚it may be as you say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come on business, and have something to say.‘
Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brick floor; placed a seat for him; and officiously deposited his cocked hat and cane on the table before him. Mr. Bumble wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his walk had engendered, glanced complacently at the cocked hat, and smiled. Yes, he smiled. Beadles are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.
‚Now don’t you be offended at what I’m a going to say,‘ observed Mrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness. ‚You’ve had a long walk, you know, or I wouldn’t mention it. Now, will you take a little drop of somethink, Mr. Bumble?‘
‚Not a drop. Nor a drop,‘ said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand in a dignified, but placid manner.
‚I think you will,‘ said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of the refusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it. ‚Just a leetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.‘
Mr. Bumble coughed.
‚Now, just a leetle drop,‘ said Mrs. Mann persuasively.
‚What is it?‘ inquired the beadle.
‚Why, it’s what I’m obliged to keep a little of in the house, to put into the blessed infants‘ Daffy, when they ain’t well, Mr. Bumble,‘ replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and took down a bottle and glass. ‚It’s gin. I’ll not deceive you, Mr. B. It’s gin.‘
‚Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?‘ inquired Bumble, following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing.
‚Ah, bless ‚em, that I do, dear as it is,‘ replied the nurse. ‚I couldn’t see ‚em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.‘
‚No‘; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; ’no, you could not. You are a humane woman, Mrs. Mann.‘ (Here she set down the glass.) ‚I shall take a early opportunity of mentioning it to the board, Mrs. Mann.‘ (He drew it towards him.) ‚You feel as a mother, Mrs. Mann.‘ (He stirred the gin-and-water.) ‚I–I drink your health with cheerfulness, Mrs. Mann‘; and he swallowed half of it.
‚And now about business,‘ said the beadle, taking out a leathern pocket-book. ‚The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, is nine year old to-day.‘
‚Bless him!‘ interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with the corner of her apron.
‚And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was afterwards increased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most superlative, and, I may say, supernat’ral exertions on the part of this parish,‘ said Bumble, ‚we have never been able to discover who is his father, or what was his mother’s settlement, name, or condition.‘
Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a moment’s reflection, ‚How comes he to have any name at all, then?‘
The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, ‚I inwented it.‘
‚You, Mr. Bumble!‘
‚I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S,–Swubble, I named him. This was a T,–Twist, I named _him_. The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.‘
‚Why, you’re quite a literary character, sir!‘ said Mrs. Mann.
‚Well, well,‘ said the beadle, evidently gratified with the compliment; ‚perhaps I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.‘ He finished the gin-and-water, and added, ‚Oliver being now too old to remain here, the board have determined to have him back into the house. I have come out myself to take him there. So let me see him at once.‘
‚I’ll fetch him directly,‘ said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room for that purpose. Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outer coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed, as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by his benevolent protectress.
‚Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,‘ said Mrs. Mann.
Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on the chair, and the cocked hat on the table.
‚Will you go along with me, Oliver?‘ said Mr. Bumble, in a majestic voice.
Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with great readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs. Mann, who had got behind the beadle’s chair, and was shaking her fist at him with a furious countenance. He took the hint at once, for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body not to be deeply impressed upon his recollection.
‚Will she go with me?‘ inquired poor Oliver.