Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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little moment, indeed, whether they were intelligible or no; for
there was nobody to care for them, had they been ever so plain.


* * * * *

The gas-lamps were lighted; Mrs. Bedwin was waiting anxiously at the
open door; the servant had run up the street twenty times to see
if there were any traces of Oliver; and still the two old gentlemen
sat, perseveringly, in the dark parlour, with the watch between
them.



CHAPTER XVI - RELATES WHAT BECAME OF OLIVER TWIST, AFTER HE HAD
BEEN CLAIMED BY NANCY

The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a large
open space; scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and other
indications of a cattle-market. Sikes slackened his pace when
they reached this spot: the girl being quite unable to support any
longer, the rapid rate at which they had hitherto walked. Turning to
Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take hold of Nancy’s hand.

‘Do you hear?’ growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and looked round.

They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers.

Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of no avail.
He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.

‘Give me the other,’ said Sikes, seizing Oliver’s unoccupied hand.
‘Here, Bull’s-Eye!’

The dog looked up, and growled.

‘See here, boy!’ said Sikes, putting his other hand to Oliver’s
throat; ‘if he speaks ever so soft a word, hold him! D’ye mind!’

The dog growled again; and licking his lips, eyed Oliver as if he
were anxious to attach himself to his windpipe without delay.

‘He’s as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if he isn’t!’
said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim and ferocious
approval. ‘Now, you know what you’ve got to expect, master, so call
away as quick as you like; the dog will soon stop that game. Get on,
young’un!’

Bull’s-eye wagged his tail in acknowledgment of this unusually
endearing form of speech; and, giving vent to another admonitory
growl for the benefit of Oliver, led the way onward.

It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have
been Grosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary. The
night was dark and foggy. The lights in the shops could scarecely
struggle through the heavy mist, which thickened every moment and
shrouded the streets and houses in gloom; rendering the strange
place still stranger in Oliver’s eyes; and making his uncertainty
the more dismal and depressing.

They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struck the
hour. With its first stroke, his two conductors stopped, and turned
their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded.

‘Eight o’ clock, Bill,’ said Nancy, when the bell ceased.

‘What’s the good of telling me that; I can hear it, can’t I!’
replied Sikes.

‘I wonder whether _they_ can hear it,’ said Nancy.

‘Of course they can,’ replied Sikes. ‘It was Bartlemy time when
I was shopped; and there warn’t a penny trumpet in the fair, as I
couldn’t hear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for the night,
the row and din outside made the thundering old jail so silent, that
I could almost have beat my brains out against the iron plates of
the door.’

‘Poor fellow!’ said Nancy, who still had her face turned towards the
quarter in which the bell had sounded. ‘Oh, Bill, such fine young
chaps as them!’

‘Yes; that’s all you women think of,’ answered Sikes. ‘Fine young
chaps! Well, they’re as good as dead, so it don’t much matter.’

With this consolation, Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising
tendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver’s wrist more firmly, told
him to step out again.

‘Wait a minute!’ said the girl: ‘I wouldn’t hurry by, if it was you
that was coming out to be hung, the next time eight o’clock struck,
Bill. I’d walk round and round the place till I dropped, if the snow
was on the ground, and I hadn’t a shawl to cover me.’

‘And what good would that do?’ inquired the unsentimental Mr. Sikes.
‘Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards of good stout
rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or not walking
at all, for all the good it would do me. Come on, and don’t stand
preaching there.’

The girl burst into a laugh; drew her shawl more closely round her;
and they walked away. But Oliver felt her hand tremble, and, looking
up in her face as they passed a gas-lamp, saw that it had turned a
deadly white.

They walked on, by little-frequented and dirty ways, for a full
half-hour: meeting very few people, and those appearing from
their looks to hold much the same position in society as Mr. Sikes
himself. At length they turned into a very filthy narrow street,
nearly full of old-clothes shops; the dog running forward, as if
conscious that there was no further occasion for his keeping
on guard, stopped before the door of a shop that was closed and
apparently untenanted; the house was in a ruinous condition, and on
the door was nailed a board, intimating that it was to let: which
looked as if it had hung there for many years.

‘All right,’ cried Sikes, glancing cautiously about.

Nancy stooped below the shutters, and Oliver heard the sound of a
bell. They crossed to the opposite side of the street, and stood for
a few moments under a lamp. A noise, as if a sash window were gently
raised, was heard; and soon afterwards the door softly opened. Mr.
Sikes then seized the terrified boy by the collar with very little
ceremony; and all three were quickly inside the house.

The passage was perfectly dark. They waited, while the person who
had let them in, chained and barred the door.

‘Anybody here?’ inquired Sikes.

‘No,’ replied a voice, which Oliver thought he had heard before.

‘Is the old ‘un here?’ asked the robber.

‘Yes,’ replied the voice, ‘and precious down in the mouth he has
been. Won’t he be glad to see you? Oh, no!’

The style of this reply, as well as the voice which delivered
it, seemed familiar to Oliver’s ears: but it was impossible to
distinguish even the form of the speaker in the darkness.

‘Let’s have a glim,’ said Sikes, ‘or we shall go breaking our necks,
or treading on the dog. Look after your legs if you do!’

‘Stand still a moment, and I’ll get you one,’ replied the voice.
The receding footsteps of the speaker were heard; and, in another
minute, the form of Mr. John Dawkins, otherwise the Artful Dodger,
appeared. He bore in his right hand a tallow candle stuck in the end
of a cleft stick.

The young gentleman did not stop to bestow any other mark of
recognition upon Oliver than a humourous grin; but, turning away,
beckoned the visitors to follow him down a flight of stairs.
They crossed an empty kitchen; and, opening the door of a low
earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in a small
back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter.

‘Oh, my wig, my wig!’ cried Master Charles Bates, from whose lungs
the laughter had proceeded: ‘here he is! oh, cry, here he is! Oh,
Fagin, look at him! Fagin, do look at him! I can’t bear it; it is
such a jolly game, I cant’ bear it. Hold me, somebody, while I laugh
it out.’

With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid
himself flat on the floor: and kicked convulsively for five minutes,
in an ectasy of facetious joy. Then jumping to his feet, he snatched
the cleft stick from the Dodger; and, advancing to Oliver, viewed
him round and round; while the Jew, taking off his nightcap, made
a great number of low bows to the bewildered boy. The Artful,
meantime, who was of a rather saturnine disposition, and seldom gave
way to merriment when it interfered with business, rifled Oliver’s
pockets with steady assiduity.

‘Look at his togs, Fagin!’ said Charley, putting the light so close
to his new jacket as nearly to set him on fire. ‘Look at his togs!
Superfine cloth, and the heavy swell cut! Oh, my eye, what a game!
And his books, too! Nothing but a gentleman, Fagin!’

‘Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear,’ said the Jew,
bowing with mock humility. ‘The Artful shall give you another suit,
my dear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one. Why didn’t you
write, my dear, and say you were coming? We’d have got something
warm for supper.’

At his, Master Bates roared again: so loud, that Fagin himself
relaxed, and even the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth
the five-pound note at that instant, it is doubtful whether the
sally of the discovery awakened his merriment.

‘Hallo, what’s that?’ inquired Sikes, stepping forward as the Jew
seized the note. ‘That’s mine, Fagin.’

‘No, no, my dear,’ said the Jew. ‘Mine, Bill, mine. You shall have
the books.’

‘If that ain’t mine!’ said Bill Sikes, putting on his hat with a
determined air; ‘mine and Nancy’s that is; I’ll take the boy back
again.’

The Jew started. Oliver started too, though from a very different
cause; for he hoped that the dispute might really end in his being
taken back.

‘Come! Hand over, will you?’ said Sikes.

‘This is hardly fair, Bill; hardly fair, is it, Nancy?’ inquired the
Jew.

‘Fair, or not fair,’ retorted Sikes, ‘hand over, I tell you! Do you
think Nancy and me has got nothing else to do with our precious time
but to spend it in scouting arter, and kidnapping, every young
boy as gets grabbed through you? Give it here, you avaricious old
skeleton, give it here!’

With this gentle remonstrance, Mr. Sikes plucked the note from
between the Jew’s finger and thumb; and looking the old man coolly
in the face, folded it up small, and tied it in his neckerchief.

‘That’s for our share of the trouble,’ said Sikes; ‘and not half
enough, neither. You may keep the books, if you’re fond of reading.
If you ain’t, sell ‘em.’

‘They’re very pretty,’ said Charley Bates: who, with sundry
grimaces, had been affecting to read one of the volumes in question;
‘beautiful writing, isn’t is, Oliver?’ At sight of the dismayed look
with which Oliver regarded his tormentors, Master Bates, who was
blessed with a lively sense of the ludicrous, fell into another
ectasy, more boisterous than the first.

‘They belong to the old gentleman,’ said Oliver, wringing his hands;
‘to the good, kind, old gentleman who took me into his house, and
had me nursed, when I was near dying of the fever. Oh, pray send
them back; send him back the books and money. Keep me here all my
life long; but pray, pray send them back. He’ll think I stole them;
the old lady: all of them who were so kind to me: will think I stole
them. Oh, do have mercy upon me, and send them back!’

With these words, which were uttered with all the energy of
passionate grief, Oliver fell upon his knees at the Jew’s feet; and
beat his hands together, in perfect desperation.

‘The boy’s right,’ remarked Fagin, looking covertly round, and
knitting his shaggy eyebrows into a hard knot. ‘You’re right,
Oliver, you’re right; they _will_ think you have stolen ‘em. Ha! ha!’
chuckled the Jew, rubbing his hands, ‘it couldn’t have happened
better, if we had chosen our time!’

‘Of course it couldn’t,’ replied Sikes; ‘I know’d that, directly I
see him coming through Clerkenwell, with the books under his arm.
It’s all right enough. They’re soft-hearted psalm-singers, or they
wouldn’t have taken him in at all; and they’ll ask no questions
after him, fear they should be obliged to prosecute, and so get him
lagged. He’s safe enough.’

Oliver had looked from one to the other, while these words were
being spoken, as if he were bewildered, and could scarecely
understand what passed; but when Bill Sikes concluded, he jumped
suddenly to his feet, and tore wildly from the room: uttering
shrieks for help, which made the bare old house echo to the roof.

‘Keep back the dog, Bill!’ cried Nancy, springing before the door,
and closing it, as the Jew and his two pupils darted out in pursuit.
‘Keep back the dog; he’ll tear the boy to pieces.’

‘Serve him right!’ cried Sikes, struggling to disengage himself
from the girl’s grasp. ‘Stand off from me, or I’ll split your head
against the wall.’

‘I don’t care for that, Bill, I don’t care for that,’ screamed the
girl, struggling violently with the man, ‘the child shan’t be torn
down by the dog, unless you kill me first.’

‘Shan’t he!’ said Sikes, setting his teeth. ‘I’ll soon do that, if
you don’t keep off.’

The housebreaker flung the girl from him to the further end of the
room, just as the Jew and the two boys returned, dragging Oliver
among them.

‘What’s the matter here!’ said Fagin, looking round.

‘The girl’s gone mad, I think,’ replied Sikes, savagely.

‘No, she hasn’t,’ said Nancy, pale and breathless from the scuffle;
‘no, she hasn’t, Fagin; don’t think it.’

‘Then keep quiet, will you?’ said the Jew, with a threatening look.

‘No, I won’t do that, neither,’ replied Nancy, speaking very loud.
‘Come! What do you think of that?’

Mr. Fagin was sufficiently well acquainted with the manners and
customs of that particular species of humanity to which Nancy
belonged, to feel tolerably certain that it would be rather unsafe
to prolong any conversation with her, at present. With the view of
diverting the attention of the company, he turned to Oliver.

‘So you wanted to get away, my dear, did you?’ said the Jew, taking
up a jagged and knotted club which law in a corner of the fireplace;
‘eh?’

Oliver made no reply. But he watched the Jew’s motions, and breathed
quickly.

‘Wanted to get assistance; called for the police; did you?’ sneered
the Jew, catching the boy by the arm. ‘We’ll cure you of that, my
young master.’

The Jew inflicted a smart blow on Oliver’s shoulders with the club;
and was raising it for a second, when the girl, rushing forward,
wrested it from his hand. She flung it into the fire, with a force
that brought some of the glowing coals whirling out into the room.

‘I won’t stand by and see it done, Fagin,’ cried the girl. ‘You’ve
got the boy, and what more would you have? - Let him be - let him
be - or I shall put that mark on some of you, that will bring me to
the gallows before my time.’

The girl stamped her foot violently on the floor as she vented this
threat; and with her lips compressed, and her hands clenched,
looked alternately at the Jew and the other robber: her face quite
colourless from the passion of rage into which she had gradually
worked herself.

‘Why, Nancy!’ said the Jew, in a soothing tone; after a pause,
during which he and Mr. Sikes had stared at one another in a
disconcerted manner; ‘you, - you’re more clever than ever to-night.
Ha! ha! my dear, you are acting beautifully.’

‘Am I!’ said the girl. ‘Take care I don’t overdo it. You will be the
worse for it, Fagin, if I do; and so I tell you in good time to keep
clear of me.’

There is something about a roused woman: especially if she add to
all her other strong passions, the fierce impulses of recklessness
and despair; which few men like to provoke. The Jew saw that it
would be hopeless to affect any further mistake regarding the
reality of Miss Nancy’s rage; and, shrinking involuntarily back
a few paces, cast a glance, half imploring and half cowardly, at
Sikes: as if to hint that he was the fittest person to pursue the
dialogue.

Mr. Sikes, thus mutely appealed to; and possibly feeling his
personal pride and influence interested in the immediate reduction
of Miss Nancy to reason; gave utterance to about a couple of score
of curses and threats, the rapid production of which reflected
great credit on the fertility of his invention. As they produced
no visible effect on the object against whom they were discharged,
however, he resorted to more tangible arguments.

‘What do you mean by this?’ said Sikes; backing the inquiry with
a very common imprecation concerning the most beautiful of human
features: which, if it were heard above, only once out of every
fifty thousand times that it is uttered below, would render
blindness as common a disorder as measles: ‘what do you mean by it?
Burn my body! Do you know who you are, and what you are?’

‘Oh, yes, I know all about it,’ replied the girl, laughing
hysterically; and shaking her head from side to side, with a poor
assumption of indifference.

‘Well, then, keep quiet,’ rejoined Sikes, with a growl like that he
was accustomed to use when addressing his dog, ‘or I’ll quiet you
for a good long time to come.’

The girl laughed again: even less composedly than before; and,
darting a hasty look at Sikes, turned her face aside, and bit her
lip till the blood came.

‘You’re a nice one,’ added Sikes, as he surveyed her with a
contemptuous air, ‘to take up the humane and gen - teel side! A
pretty subject for the child, as you call him, to make a friend of!’

‘God Almighty help me, I am!’ cried the girl passionately; ‘and I
wish I had been struck dead in the street, or had changed places
with them we passed so near to-night, before I had lent a hand in
bringing him here. He’s a thief, a liar, a devil, all that’s bad,
from this night forth. Isn’t that enough for the old wretch, without
blows?’

‘Come, come, Sikes,’ said the Jew appealing to him in a
remonstratory tone, and motioning towards the boys, who were eagerly
attentive to all that passed; ‘we must have civil words; civil
words, Bill.’

‘Civil words!’ cried the girl, whose passion was frightful to see.
‘Civil words, you villain! Yes, you deserve ‘em from me. I thieved
for you when I was a child not half as old as this!’ pointing to
Oliver. ‘I have been in the same trade, and in the same service,
for twelve years since. Don’t you know it? Speak out! Don’t you know
it?’

‘Well, well,’ replied the Jew, with an attempt at pacification;
‘and, if you have, it’s your living!’

‘Aye, it is!’ returned the girl; not speaking, but pouring out the
words in one continuous and vehement scream. ‘It is my living; and
the cold, wet, dirty streets are my home; and you’re the wretch that
drove me to them long ago, and that’ll keep me there, day and night,
day and night, till I die!’

‘I shall do you a mischief!’ interposed the Jew, goaded by these
reproaches; ‘a mischief worse than that, if you say much more!’

The girl said nothing more; but, tearing her hair and dress in a
transport of passion, made such a rush at the Jew as would probably
have left signal marks of her revenge upon him, had not her wrists
been seized by Sikes at the right moment; upon which, she made a few
ineffectual struggles, and fainted.

‘She’s all right now,’ said Sikes, laying her down in a corner.
‘She’s uncommon strong in the arms, when she’s up in this way.’

The Jew wiped his forehead: and smiled, as if it were a relief to
have the disturbance over; but neither he, nor Sikes, nor the dog,
nor the boys, seemed to consider it in any other light than a common
occurance incidental to business.

‘It’s the worst of having to do with women,’ said the Jew, replacing
his club; ‘but they’re clever, and we can’t get on, in our line,
without ‘em. Charley, show Oliver to bed.’

‘I suppose he’d better not wear his best clothes tomorrow, Fagin,
had he?’ inquired Charley Bates.

‘Certainly not,’ replied the Jew, reciprocating the grin with which
Charley put the question.

Master Bates, apparently much delighted with his commission, took
the cleft stick: and led Oliver into an adjacent kitchen, where
there were two or three of the beds on which he had slept before;
and here, with many uncontrollable bursts of laughter, he produced
the identical old suit of clothes which Oliver had so much
congratulated himself upon leaving off at Mr. Brownlow’s; and the
accidental display of which, to Fagin, by the Jew who purchased
them, had been the very first clue received, of his whereabout.

‘Put off the smart ones,’ said Charley, ‘and I’ll give ‘em to Fagin
to take care of. What fun it is!’

Poor Oliver unwillingly complied. Master Bates rolling up the new
clothes under his arm, departed from the room, leaving Oliver in the
dark, and locking the door behind him.

The noise of Charley’s laughter, and the voice of Miss Betsy, who
opportunely arrived to throw water over her friend, and perform
other feminine offices for the promotion of her recovery, might have
kept many people awake under more happy circumstances than those in
which Oliver was placed. But he was sick and weary; and he soon fell
sound asleep.



CHAPTER XVII - OLIVER’S DESTINY CONTINUING UNPROPITIOUS, BRINGS A
GREAT MAN TO LONDON TO INJURE HIS REPUTATION

It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to
present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation,
as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon. The hero
sinks upon his straw bed, weighed down by fetters and misfortunes;
in the next scene, his faithful but unconscious squire regales the
audience with a comic song. We behold, with throbbing bosoms, the
heroine in the grasp of a proud and ruthless baron: her virtue and
her life alike in danger, drawing forth her dagger to preserve
the one at the cost of the other; and just as our expectations are
wrought up to the highest pitch, a whistle is heard, and we are
straightway transported to the great hall of the castle; where a
grey-headed seneschal sings a funny chorus with a funnier body of
vassals, who are free of all sorts of places, from church vaults to
palaces, and roam about in company, carolling perpetually.

Such changes appear absurd; but they are not so unnatural as
they would seem at first sight. The transitions in real life from
well-spread boards to death-beds, and from mourning-weeds to holiday
garments, are not a whit less startling; only, there, we are
busy actors, instead of passive lookers-on, which makes a vast
difference. The actors in the mimic life of the theatre, are blind
to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of passion or feeling,
which, presented before the eyes of mere spectators, are at once
condemned as outrageous and preposterous.

As sudden shiftings of the scene, and rapid changes of time and
place, are not only sanctioned in books by long usage, but are by
many considered as the great art of authorship: an author’s skill in
his craft being, by such critics, chiefly estimated with relation to
the dilemmas in which he leaves his characters at the end of every
chapter: this brief introduction to the present one may perhaps
be deemed unnecessary. If so, let it be considered a delicate
intimation on the part of the historian that he is going back to
the town in which Oliver Twist was born; the reader taking it for
granted that there are good and substantial reasons for making
the journey, or he would not be invited to proceed upon such an
expedition.

Mr. Bumble emerged at early morning from the workhouse-gate, and
walked with portly carriage and commanding steps, up the High
Street. He was in the full bloom and pride of beadlehood; his cocked
hat and coat were dazzling in the morning sun; he clutched his cane
with the vigorous tenacity of health and power. Mr. Bumble always
carried his head high; but this morning it was higher than usual.
There was an abstraction in his eye, an elevation in his air, which
might have warned an observant stranger that thoughts were passing
in the beadle’s mind, too great for utterance.

Mr. Bumble stopped not to converse with the small shopkeepers and
others who spoke to him, deferentially, as he passed along. He
merely returned their salutations with a wave of his hand, and
relaxed not in his dignified pace, until he reached the farm where
Mrs. Mann tended the infant paupers with parochial care.

‘Drat that beadle!’ said Mrs. Mann, hearing the well-known shaking
at the garden-gate. ‘If it isn’t him at this time in the morning!
Lauk, Mr. Bumble, only think of its being you! Well, dear me, it _is_
a pleasure, this is! Come into the parlour, sir, please.’

The first sentence was addressed to Susan; and the exclamations of
delight were uttered to Mr. Bumble: as the good lady unlocked the


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 11 of 25)