Context: Oliver Twist, accompanying the Artful Dodger and Charlie Bates, the thief-trainer Fagin's assistants, is erroneously thought to have picked the pocket of old Mr. Brownlow. He is pursued, captured, and taken to a police station, where, in spite of all that Mr. Brownlow can do, he is sentenced to three months hard labor. He is saved, however, on the evidence of the bookseller at whose stall Mr. Brownlow was reading when the robbery took place. Upon being released, Oliver faints upon the sidewalk and is picked up and carried home by Mr. Brownlow. For weeks he is unconscious with fever; but when he recovers his health, Mr. Brownlow summons him for a talk in his study. Before the talk gets under way there is a visitor:
At this moment, there walked into the room; supporting himself by a thick stick: a stout old gentleman, rather lame in one leg, who was dressed in a blue coat, striped waistcoat, nankeen breeches and gaiters, and a broad-brimmed white hat, with the sides turned up with green. A very small-plaited shirt frill stuck out from his waistcoat; and a very long steel watch-chain, with nothing but a key at the end, dangled loosely below it. . . . he fixed himself, the moment he made his appearance; and, holding out a small piece of orange-peel at arm's length, exclaimed, in a growling, discontented voice,
"Look here! do you see this! Isn't it a most wonderful and extraordinary thing that I can't call at a man's house but I find a piece of this poor surgeon's-friend on the staircase? I've been lamed with orange-peel once, and I know orange-peel will be my death at last. It will, sir; orange-peel will be my death, or I'll be content to eat my own head, sir!"
This was the handsome offer with which Mr. Grimwig backed and confirmed nearly every assertion that he made. . . . Mr. Grimwig's head was such a particularly large one, that the most sanguine man alive could hardly entertain a hope of being able to get through it at a sitting–to put entirely out of the question, a very thick coating of powder.
"I'll eat my head, sir," repeated Mr. Grimwig, striking his stick upon the ground. "Hallo; what's that!" looking at Oliver, and retreating a pace or two.