Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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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, 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 he made; and it was the more
singular in his case, because, even admitting for the sake of
argument, the possibility of scientific improvements being brought
to that pass which will enable a gentleman to eat his own head in
the event of his being so disposed, 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.

‘This is young Oliver Twist, whom we were speaking about,’ said Mr.
Brownlow.

Oliver bowed.

‘You don’t mean to say that’s the boy who had the fever, I hope?’
said Mr. Grimwig, recoiling a little more. ‘Wait a minute! Don’t
speak! Stop - ’ continued Mr. Grimwig, abruptly, losing all dread of
the fever in his triumph at the discovery; ‘that’s the boy who had
the orange! If that’s not the boy, sir, who had the orange, and
threw this bit of peel upon the staircase, I’ll eat my head, and his
too.’

‘No, no, he has not had one,’ said Mr. Brownlow, laughing. ‘Come!
Put down your hat; and speak to my young friend.’

‘I feel strongly on this subject, sir,’ said the irritable old
gentleman, drawing off his gloves. ‘There’s always more or less
orange-peel on the pavement in our street; and I _know_ it’s put
there by the surgeon’s boy at the corner. A young woman stumbled
over a bit last night, and fell against my garden-railings; directly
she got up I saw her look towards his infernal red lamp with the
pantomime-light. “Don’t go to him,” I called out of the window,
“he’s an assassin! A man-trap!” So he is. If he is not - ’ Here the
irascible old gentleman gave a great knock on the ground with his
stick; which was always understood, by his friends, to imply the
customary offer, whenever it was not expressed in words. Then, still
keeping his stick in his hand, he sat down; and, opening a double
eye-glass, which he wore attached to a broad black riband, took a
view of Oliver: who, seeing that he was the object of inspection,
coloured, and bowed again.

‘That’s the boy, is it?’ said Mr. Grimwig, at length.

‘That’s the boy,’ replied Mr. Brownlow.

‘How are you, boy?’ said Mr. Grimwig.

‘A great deal better, thank you, sir,’ replied Oliver.

Mr. Brownlow, seeming to apprehend that his singular friend was
about to say something disagreeable, asked Oliver to step downstairs
and tell Mrs. Bedwin they were ready for tea; which, as he did not
half like the visitor’s manner, he was very happy to do.

‘He is a nice-looking boy, is he not?’ inquired Mr. Brownlow.

‘I don’t know,’ replied Mr. Grimwig, pettishly.

‘Don’t know?’

‘No. I don’t know. I never see any difference in boys. I only knew
two sort of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys.’

‘And which is Oliver?’

‘Mealy. I know a friend who has a beef-faced boy; a fine boy, they
call him; with a round head, and red cheeks, and glaring eyes; a
horrid boy; with a body and limbs that appear to be swelling out of
the seams of his blue clothes; with the voice of a pilot, and the
appetite of a wolf. I know him! The wretch!’

‘Come,’ said Mr. Brownlow, ‘these are not the characteristics of
young Oliver Twist; so he needn’t excite your wrath.’

‘They are not,’ replied Mr. Grimwig. ‘He may have worse.’

Here, Mr. Brownlow coughed impatiently; which appeared to afford Mr.
Grimwig the most exquisite delight.

‘He may have worse, I say,’ repeated Mr. Grimwig. ‘Where does he
come from! Who is he? What is he? He has had a fever. What of that?
Fevers are not peculiar to good people; are they? Bad people have
fevers sometimes; haven’t they, eh? I knew a man who was hung in
Jamaica for murdering his master. He had had a fever six times; he
wasn’t recommended to mercy on that account. Pooh! nonsense!’

Now, the fact was, that in the inmost recesses of his own heart, Mr.
Grimwig was strongly disposed to admit that Oliver’s appearance and
manner were unusually prepossessing; but he had a strong appetite
for contradiction, sharpened on this occasion by the finding of the
orange-peel; and, inwardly determining that no man should dictate to
him whether a boy was well-looking or not, he had resolved, from the
first, to oppose his friend. When Mr. Brownlow admitted that on no
one point of inquiry could he yet return a satisfactory answer;
and that he had postponed any investigation into Oliver’s previous
history until he thought the boy was strong enough to hear it; Mr.
Grimwig chuckled maliciously. And he demanded, with a sneer, whether
the housekeeper was in the habit of counting the plate at night;
because if she didn’t find a table-spoon or two missing some
sunshiny morning, why, he would be content to - and so forth.

All this, Mr. Brownlow, although himself somewhat of an impetuous
gentleman: knowing his friend’s peculiarities, bore with great good
humour; as Mr. Grimwig, at tea, was graciously pleased to express
his entire approval of the muffins, matters went on very smoothly;
and Oliver, who made one of the party, began to feel more at his
ease than he had yet done in the fierce old gentleman’s presence.

‘And when are you going to hear a full, true, and particular account
of the life and adventures of Oliver Twist?’ asked Grimwig of Mr.
Brownlow, at the conclusion of the meal; looking sideways at Oliver,
as he resumed his subject.

‘To-morrow morning,’ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘I would rather he was
alone with me at the time. Come up to me to-morrow morning at ten
o’clock, my dear.’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver. He answered with some hesitation,
because he was confused by Mr. Grimwig’s looking so hard at him.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ whispered that gentleman to Mr. Brownlow; ‘he
won’t come up to you to-morrow morning. I saw him hesitate. He is
deceiving you, my good friend.’

‘I’ll swear he is not,’ replied Mr. Brownlow, warmly.

‘If he is not,’ said Mr. Grimwig, ‘I’ll - ’ and down went the stick.

‘I’ll answer for that boy’s truth with my life!’ said Mr. Brownlow,
knocking the table.

‘And I for his falsehood with my head!’ rejoined Mr. Grimwig,
knocking the table also.

‘We shall see,’ said Mr. Brownlow, checking his rising anger.

‘We will,’ replied Mr. Grimwig, with a provoking smile; ‘we will.’

As fate would have it, Mrs. Bedwin chanced to bring in, at this
moment, a small parcel of books, which Mr. Brownlow had that morning
purchased of the identical bookstall-keeper, who has already figured
in this history; having laid them on the table, she prepared to
leave the room.

‘Stop the boy, Mrs. Bedwin!’ said Mr. Brownlow; ‘there is something
to go back.’

‘He has gone, sir,’ replied Mrs. Bedwin.

‘Call after him,’ said Mr. Brownlow; ‘it’s particular. He is a poor
man, and they are not paid for. There are some books to be taken
back, too.’

The street-door was opened. Oliver ran one way; and the girl ran
another; and Mrs. Bedwin stood on the step and screamed for the boy;
but there was no boy in sight. Oliver and the girl returned, in a
breathless state, to report that there were no tidings of him.

‘Dear me, I am very sorry for that,’ exclaimed Mr. Brownlow; ‘I
particularly wished those books to be returned to-night.’

‘Send Oliver with them,’ said Mr. Grimwig, with an ironical smile;
‘he will be sure to deliver them safely, you know.’

‘Yes; do let me take them, if you please, sir,’ said Oliver. ‘I’ll
run all the way, sir.’

The old gentleman was just going to say that Oliver should not go
out on any account; when a most malicious cough from Mr. Grimwig
determined him that he should; and that, by his prompt discharge
of the commission, he should prove to him the injustice of his
suspicions: on this head at least: at once.

‘You _shall_ go, my dear,’ said the old gentleman. ‘The books are on
a chair by my table. Fetch them down.’

Oliver, delighted to be of use, brought down the books under his arm
in a great bustle; and waited, cap in hand, to hear what message he
was to take.

‘You are to say,’ said Mr. Brownlow, glancing steadily at Grimwig;
‘you are to say that you have brought those books back; and that you
have come to pay the four pound ten I owe him. This is a five-pound
note, so you will have to bring me back, ten shillings change.’

‘I won’t be ten minutes, sir,’ said Oliver, eagerly. Having
buttoned up the bank-note in his jacket pocket, and placed the books
carefully under his arm, he made a respectful bow, and left the
room. Mrs. Bedwin followed him to the street-door, giving him many
directions about the nearest way, and the name of the bookseller,
and the name of the street: all of which Oliver said he clearly
understood. Having superadded many injunctions to be sure and not
take cold, the old lady at length permitted him to depart.

‘Bless his sweet face!’ said the old lady, looking after him. ‘I
can’t bear, somehow, to let him go out of my sight.’

At this moment, Oliver looked gaily round, and nodded before he
turned the corner. The old lady smilingly returned his salutation,
and, closing the door, went back to her own room.

‘Let me see; he’ll be back in twenty minutes, at the longest,’ said
Mr. Brownlow, pulling out his watch, and placing it on the table.
‘It will be dark by that time.’

‘Oh! you really expect him to come back, do you?’ inquired Mr.
Grimwig.

‘Don’t you?’ asked Mr. Brownlow, smiling.

The spirit of contradiction was strong in Mr. Grimwig’s breast, at
the moment; and it was rendered stronger by his friend’s confident
smile.

‘No,’ he said, smiting the table with his fist, ‘I do not. The boy
has a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuable books under
his arm, and a five-pound note in his pocket. He’ll join his old
friends the thieves, and laugh at you. If ever that boy returns to
this house, sir, I’ll eat my head.’

With these words he drew his chair closer to the table; and there
the two friends sat, in silent expectation, with the watch between
them.

It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the importance we attach to
our own judgments, and the pride with which we put forth our most
rash and hasty conclusions, that, although Mr. Grimwig was not
by any means a bad-hearted man, and though he would have been
unfeignedly sorry to see his respected friend duped and deceived,
he really did most earnestly and strongly hope at that moment, that
Oliver Twist might not come back.

It grew so dark, that the figures on the dial-plate were scarcely
discernible; but there the two old gentlemen continued to sit, in
silence, with the watch between them.



CHAPTER XV - SHOWING HOW VERY FOND OF OLIVER TWIST, THE MERRY OLD
JEW AND MISS NANCY WERE

In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest
part of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring
gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where no ray of sun
ever shone in the summer: there sat, brooding over a little pewter
measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated with the smell
of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half-boots and
stockings, whom even by that dim light no experienced agent of the
police would have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes. At
his feet, sat a white-coated, red-eyed dog; who occupied himself,
alternately, in winking at his master with both eyes at the same
time; and in licking a large, fresh cut on one side of his mouth,
which appeared to be the result of some recent conflict.

‘Keep quiet, you warmint! Keep quiet!’ said Mr. Sikes, suddenly
breaking silence. Whether his meditations were so intense as to
be disturbed by the dog’s winking, or whether his feelings were so
wrought upon by his reflections that they required all the relief
derivable from kicking an unoffending animal to allay them, is
matter for argument and consideration. Whatever was the cause, the
effect was a kick and a curse, bestowed upon the dog simultaneously.

Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon them
by their masters; but Mr. Sikes’s dog, having faults of temper in
common with his owner, and labouring, perhaps, at this moment, under
a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado but at once fixed his
teeth in one of the half-boots. Having given in a hearty shake, he
retired, growling, under a form; just escaping the pewter measure
which Mr. Sikes levelled at his head.

‘You would, would you?’ said Sikes, seizing the poker in one hand,
and deliberately opening with the other a large clasp-knife, which
he drew from his pocket. ‘Come here, you born devil! Come here! D’ye
hear?’

The dog no doubt heard; because Mr. Sikes spoke in the very
harshest key of a very harsh voice; but, appearing to entertain some
unaccountable objection to having his throat cut, he remained where
he was, and growled more fiercely than before: at the same time
grasping the end of the poker between his teeth, and biting at it
like a wild beast.

This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; who, dropping on
his knees, began to assail the animal most furiously. The dog jumped
from right to left, and from left to right; snapping, growling, and
barking; the man thrust and swore, and struck and blasphemed; and
the struggle was reaching a most critical point for one or other;
when, the door suddenly opening, the dog darted out: leaving Bill
Sikes with the poker and the clasp-knife in his hands.

There must always be two parties to a quarrel, says the old adage.
Mr. Sikes, being disappointed of the dog’s participation, at once
transferred his share in the quarrel to the new comer.

‘What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?’ said
Sikes, with a fierce gesture.

‘I didn’t know, my dear, I didn’t know,’ replied Fagin, humbly; for
the Jew was the new comer.

‘Didn’t know, you white-livered thief!’ growled Sikes. ‘Couldn’t you
hear the noise?’

‘Not a sound of it, as I’m a living man, Bill,’ replied the Jew.

‘Oh no! You hear nothing, you don’t,’ retorted Sikes with a fierce
sneer. ‘Sneaking in and out, so as nobody hears how you come or go!
I wish you had been the dog, Fagin, half a minute ago.’

‘Why?’ inquired the Jew with a forced smile.

‘Cause the government, as cares for the lives of such men as you, as
haven’t half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill a dog how he likes,’
replied Sikes, shutting up the knife with a very expressive look;
‘that’s why.’

The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table, affected
to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend. He was obviously very ill
at ease, however.

‘Grin away,’ said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying him
with savage contempt; ‘grin away. You’ll never have the laugh at me,
though, unless it’s behind a nightcap. I’ve got the upper hand over
you, Fagin; and, d - me, I’ll keep it. There! If I go, you go; so
take care of me.’

‘Well, well, my dear,’ said the Jew, ‘I know all that; we - we - have
a mutual interest, Bill, - a mutual interest.’

‘Humph,’ said Sikes, as if he thought the interest lay rather more
on the Jew’s side than on his. ‘Well, what have you got to say to
me?’

‘It’s all passed safe through the melting-pot,’ replied Fagin, ‘and
this is your share. It’s rather more than it ought to be, my dear;
but as I know you’ll do me a good turn another time, and - ’

‘Stow that gammon,’ interposed the robber, impatiently. ‘Where is
it? Hand over!’

‘Yes, yes, Bill; give me time, give me time,’ replied the Jew,
soothingly. ‘Here it is! All safe!’ As he spoke, he drew forth an
old cotton handkerchief from his breast; and untying a large knot in
one corner, produced a small brown-paper packet. Sikes, snatching it
from him, hastily opened it; and proceeded to count the sovereigns
it contained.

‘This is all, is it?’ inquired Sikes.

‘All,’ replied the Jew.

‘You haven’t opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as you come
along, have you?’ inquired Sikes, suspiciously. ‘Don’t put on an
injured look at the question; you’ve done it many a time. Jerk the
tinkler.’

These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring the
bell. It was answered by another Jew: younger than Fagin, but nearly
as vile and repulsive in appearance.

Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure. The Jew, perfectly
understanding the hint, retired to fill it: previously exchanging a
remarkable look with Fagin, who raised his eyes for an instant, as
if in expectation of it, and shook his head in reply; so slightly
that the action would have been almost imperceptible to an observant
third person. It was lost upon Sikes, who was stooping at the moment
to tie the boot-lace which the dog had torn. Possibly, if he had
observed the brief interchange of signals, he might have thought
that it boded no good to him.

‘Is anybody here, Barney?’ inquired Fagin; speaking, now that that
Sikes was looking on, without raising his eyes from the ground.

‘Dot a shoul,’ replied Barney; whose words: whether they came from
the heart or not: made their way through the nose.

‘Nobody?’ inquired Fagin, in a tone of surprise: which perhaps might
mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth.

‘Dobody but Biss Dadsy,’ replied Barney.

‘Nancy!’ exclaimed Sikes. ‘Where? Strike me blind, if I don’t honour
that ‘ere girl, for her native talents.’

‘She’s bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar,’ replied Barney.

‘Send her here,’ said Sikes, pouring out a glass of liquor. ‘Send
her here.’

Barney looked timidly at Fagin, as if for permission; the Jew
remaining silent, and not lifting his eyes from the ground,
he retired; and presently returned, ushering in Nancy; who was
decorated with the bonnet, apron, basket, and street-door key,
complete.

‘You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?’ inquired Sikes, proffering
the glass.

‘Yes, I am, Bill,’ replied the young lady, disposing of its
contents; ‘and tired enough of it I am, too. The young brat’s been
ill and confined to the crib; and - ’

‘Ah, Nancy, dear!’ said Fagin, looking up.

Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew’s red eye-brows, and
a half closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy that
she was disposed to be too communicative, is not a matter of much
importance. The fact is all we need care for here; and the fact is,
that she suddenly checked herself, and with several gracious smiles
upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to other matters. In about
ten minutes’ time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit of coughing; upon
which Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders, and declared it was
time to go. Mr. Sikes, finding that he was walking a short part of
her way himself, expressed his intention of accompanying her; they
went away together, followed, at a little distant, by the dog, who
slunk out of a back-yard as soon as his master was out of sight.

The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had left
it; looked after him as we walked up the dark passage; shook his
clenched fist; muttered a deep curse; and then, with a horrible
grin, reseated himself at the table; where he was soon deeply
absorbed in the interesting pages of the Hue-and-Cry.

Meanwhile, Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within so very
short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way to the
book-stall. When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidently turned down
a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but not discovering
his mistake until he had got half-way down it, and knowing it must
lead in the right direction, he did not think it worth while to
turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as he could, with the books
under his arm.

He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought to
feel; and how much he would give for only one look at poor little
Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be weeping bitterly at that
very moment; when he was startled by a young woman screaming out
very loud. ‘Oh, my dear brother!’ And he had hardly looked up, to
see what the matter was, when he was stopped by having a pair of
arms thrown tight round his neck.

‘Don’t,’ cried Oliver, struggling. ‘Let go of me. Who is it? What
are you stopping me for?’

The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations from
the young woman who had embraced him; and who had a little basket
and a street-door key in her hand.

‘Oh my gracious!’ said the young woman, ‘I have found him! Oh!
Oliver! Oliver! Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer such distress
on your account! Come home, dear, come. Oh, I’ve found him. Thank
gracious goodness heavins, I’ve found him!’ With these incoherent
exclamations, the young woman burst into another fit of crying, and
got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple of women who came up at
the moment asked a butcher’s boy with a shiny head of hair anointed
with suet, who was also looking on, whether he didn’t think he had
better run for the doctor. To which, the butcher’s boy: who appeared
of a lounging, not to say indolent disposition: replied, that he
thought not.

‘Oh, no, no, never mind,’ said the young woman, grasping Oliver’s
hand; ‘I’m better now. Come home directly, you cruel boy! Come!’

‘Oh, ma’am,’ replied the young woman, ‘he ran away, near a month
ago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectable people;
and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters; and almost
broke his mother’s heart.’

‘Young wretch!’ said one woman.

‘Go home, do, you little brute,’ said the other.

‘I am not,’ replied Oliver, greatly alarmed. ‘I don’t know her. I
haven’t any sister, or father and mother either. I’m an orphan; I
live at Pentonville.’

‘Only hear him, how he braves it out!’ cried the young woman.

‘Why, it’s Nancy!’ exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face for the
first time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment.

‘You see he knows me!’ cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders.
‘He can’t help himself. Make him come home, there’s good people, or
he’ll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart!’

‘What the devil’s this?’ said a man, bursting out of a beer-shop,
with a white dog at his heels; ‘young Oliver! Come home to your poor
mother, you young dog! Come home directly.’

‘I don’t belong to them. I don’t know them. Help! help!’ cried
Oliver, struggling in the man’s powerful grasp.

‘Help!’ repeated the man. ‘Yes; I’ll help you, you young rascal!

What books are these? You’ve been a stealing ‘em, have you? Give ‘em
here.’ With these words, the man tore the volumes from his grasp,
and struck him on the head.

‘That’s right!’ cried a looker-on, from a garret-window. ‘That’s the
only way of bringing him to his senses!’

‘To be sure!’ cried a sleepy-faced carpenter, casting an approving
look at the garret-window.

‘It’ll do him good!’ said the two women.

‘And he shall have it, too!’ rejoined the man, administering another
blow, and seizing Oliver by the collar. ‘Come on, you young villain!
Here, Bull’s-eye, mind him, boy! Mind him!’

Weak with recent illness; stupified by the blows and the suddenness
of the attack; terrified by the fierce growling of the dog, and
the brutality of the man; overpowered by the conviction of the
bystanders that he really was the hardened little wretch he was
described to be; what could one poor child do! Darkness had set in;
it was a low neighborhood; no help was near; resistance was useless.
In another moment he was dragged into a labyrinth of dark narrow
courts, and was forced along them at a pace which rendered the
few cries he dared to give utterance to, unintelligible. It was of


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 10 of 25)