The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied 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 aloud for the beadle.
The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr Beadle rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentlemen in the high chair, said,
‘Mr Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’ There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.
‘For more!’ said Mr Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. So I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’
‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.
‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waist-coat; ‘I know that boy will be hung.’
Mid nineteenth century London stank of division. Laws were passed by the rich to be obeyed by the poor. This tale illustrates how perceived havens of safety fared little better than life on the street. Survival for some was through theft and was a crime severely dealt with. A day in court was a formality as was the horrendous punishment unceremoniously meted out. Dickens wrote more as an observer of life at the time than a judge and commentator. Much of this was left to the reader. Poor Ollie and his cohorts must have been desperate indeed for sustenance that they would so awfully plead for extra gruel that their ‘carers’ would so readily spill on the floor than consume. A depressing thought is to consider that similar deprivation exists today. One wonders what an 1830’s reader would have made of this story at the time.
Why select this extract? Because the reader always wants more.