Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 13 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 13 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


young Green here.’

‘No more it has,’ said Charley. ‘Why don’t you put yourself under
Fagin, Oliver?’

‘And make your fortun’ out of hand?’ added the Dodger, with a grin.

‘And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-teel: as
I mean to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever comes, and
the forty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,’ said Charley Bates.

‘I don’t like it,’ rejoined Oliver, timidly; ‘I wish they would let
me go. I - I - would rather go.’

‘And Fagin would _rather_ not!’ rejoined Charley.

Oliver knew this too well; but thinking it might be dangerous to
express his feelings more openly, he only sighed, and went on with
his boot-cleaning.

‘Go!’ exclaimed the Dodger. ‘Why, where’s your spirit?’ Don’t you
take any pride out of yourself? Would you go and be dependent on
your friends?’

‘Oh, blow that!’ said Master Bates: drawing two or three silk
handkerchiefs from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard,
‘that’s too mean; that is.’

‘_I_ couldn’t do it,’ said the Dodger, with an air of haughty
disgust.

‘You can leave your friends, though,’ said Oliver with a half smile;
‘and let them be punished for what you did.’

‘That,’ rejoined the Dodger, with a wave of his pipe, ‘That was all
out of consideration for Fagin, ‘cause the traps know that we work
together, and he might have got into trouble if we hadn’t made our
lucky; that was the move, wasn’t it, Charley?’

Master Bates nodded assent, and would have spoken, but the
recollection of Oliver’s flight came so suddenly upon him, that the
smoke he was inhaling got entangled with a laugh, and went up into
his head, and down into his throat: and brought on a fit of coughing
and stamping, about five minutes long.

‘Look here!’ said the Dodger, drawing forth a handful of shillings
and halfpence. ‘Here’s a jolly life! What’s the odds where it comes
from? Here, catch hold; there’s plenty more where they were took
from. You won’t, won’t you? Oh, you precious flat!’

‘It’s naughty, ain’t it, Oliver?’ inquired Charley Bates. ‘He’ll
come to be scragged, won’t he?’

‘I don’t know what that means,’ replied Oliver.

‘Something in this way, old feller,’ said Charly. As he said it,
Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding it
erect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked a
curious sound through his teeth; thereby indicating, by a lively
pantomimic representation, that scragging and hanging were one and
the same thing.

‘That’s what it means,’ said Charley. ‘Look how he stares, Jack!

I never did see such prime company as that ‘ere boy; he’ll be the
death of me, I know he will.’ Master Charley Bates, having laughed
heartily again, resumed his pipe with tears in his eyes.

‘You’ve been brought up bad,’ said the Dodger, surveying his boots
with much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them. ‘Fagin will
make something of you, though, or you’ll be the first he ever had
that turned out unprofitable. You’d better begin at once; for you’ll
come to the trade long before you think of it; and you’re only
losing time, Oliver.’

Master Bates backed this advice with sundry moral admonitions of his
own: which, being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkins launched
into a glowing description of the numerous pleasures incidental to
the life they led, interspersed with a variety of hints to Oliver
that the best thing he could do, would be to secure Fagin’s favour
without more delay, by the means which they themselves had employed
to gain it.

‘And always put this in your pipe, Nolly,’ said the Dodger, as the
Jew was heard unlocking the door above, ‘if you don’t take fogels
and tickers - ’

‘What’s the good of talking in that way?’ interposed Master Bates;
‘he don’t know what you mean.’

‘If you don’t take pocket-handkechers and watches,’ said the Dodger,
reducing his conversation to the level of Oliver’s capacity, ‘some
other cove will; so that the coves that lose ‘em will be all the
worse, and you’ll be all the worse, too, and nobody half a ha’p’orth
the better, except the chaps wot gets them - and you’ve just as good
a right to them as they have.’

‘To be sure, to be sure!’ said the Jew, who had entered unseen by
Oliver. ‘It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell, take the
Dodger’s word for it. Ha! ha! ha! He understands the catechism of
his trade.’

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully together, as he corroborated
the Dodger’s reasoning in these terms; and chuckled with delight at
his pupil’s proficiency.

The conversation proceeded no farther at this time, for the Jew had
returned home accompanied by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whom Oliver
had never seen before, but who was accosted by the Dodger as Tom
Chitling; and who, having lingered on the stairs to exchange a few
gallantries with the lady, now made his appearance.

Mr. Chitling was older in years than the Dodger: having perhaps
numbered eighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference in
his deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed to indicate
that he felt himself conscious of a slight inferiority in point of
genius and professional aquirements. He had small twinkling eyes,
and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a dark corduroy jacket,
greasy fustian trousers, and an apron. His wardrobe was, in truth,
rather out of repair; but he excused himself to the company by
stating that his ‘time’ was only out an hour before; and that, in
consequence of having worn the regimentals for six weeks past, he
had not been able to bestow any attention on his private clothes.
Mr. Chitling added, with strong marks of irritation, that the new
way of fumigating clothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional,
for it burnt holes in them, and there was no remedy against the
County. The same remark he considered to apply to the regulation
mode of cutting the hair: which he held to be decidedly unlawful.
Mr. Chitling wound up his observations by stating that he had not
touched a drop of anything for forty-two moral long hard-working
days; and that he ‘wished he might be busted if he warn’t as dry as
a lime-basket.’

‘Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver?’ inquired
the Jew, with a grin, as the other boys put a bottle of spirits on
the table.

‘I - I - don’t know, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘Who’s that?’ inquired Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous look at
Oliver.

‘A young friend of mine, my dear,’ replied the Jew.

‘He’s in luck, then,’ said the young man, with a meaning look at
Fagin. ‘Never mind where I came from, young ‘un; you’ll find your
way there, soon enough, I’ll bet a crown!’

At this sally, the boys laughed. After some more jokes on the
same subject, they exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin; and
withdrew.

After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, they drew
their chairs towards the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver to come
and sit by him, led the conversation to the topics most calculated
to interest his hearers. These were, the great advantages of the
trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, the amiability of Charley
Bates, and the liberality of the Jew himself. At length these
subjects displayed signs of being thoroughly exhausted; and Mr.
Chitling did the same: for the house of correction becomes fatiguing
after a week or two. Miss Betsy accordingly withdrew; and left the
party to their repose.

From this day, Oliver was seldom left alone; but was placed in
almost constant communication with the two boys, who played the old
game with the Jew every day: whether for their own improvement or
Oliver’s, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other times the old man would
tell them stories of robberies he had committed in his younger days:
mixed up with so much that was droll and curious, that Oliver could
not help laughing heartily, and showing that he was amused in spite
of all his better feelings.

In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils. Having prepared
his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the
companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, he was
now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would
blacken it, and change its hue for ever.



CHAPTER XIX - IN WHICH A NOTABLE PLAN IS DISCUSSED AND DETERMINED ON

It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew: buttoning his
great-coat tight round his shrivelled body, and pulling the collar
up over his ears so as completely to obscure the lower part of his
face: emerged from his den. He paused on the step as the door was
locked and chained behind him; and having listened while the boys
made all secure, and until their retreating footsteps were no longer
audible, slunk down the street as quickly as he could.

The house to which Oliver had been conveyed, was in the neighborhood
of Whitechapel. The Jew stopped for an instant at the corner of
the street; and, glancing suspiciously round, crossed the road, and
struck off in the direction of the Spitalfields.

The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over the
streets; the rain fell sluggishly down, and everything felt cold and
clammy to the touch. It seemed just the night when it befitted such
a being as the Jew to be abroad. As he glided stealthily along,
creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous
old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime
and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in
search of some rich offal for a meal.

He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow ways, until
he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he
soon became involved in a maze of the mean and dirty streets which
abound in that close and densely-populated quarter.

The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversed to
be at all bewildered, either by the darkness of the night, or
the intricacies of the way. He hurried through several alleys and
streets, and at length turned into one, lighted only by a single
lamp at the farther end. At the door of a house in this street, he
knocked; having exchanged a few muttered words with the person who
opened it, he walked upstairs.

A dog growled as he touched the handle of a room-door; and a man’s
voice demanded who was there.

‘Only me, Bill; only me, my dear,’ said the Jew looking in.

‘Bring in your body then,’ said Sikes. ‘Lie down, you stupid brute!
Don’t you know the devil when he’s got a great-coat on?’

Apparently, the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin’s outer
garment; for as the Jew unbuttoned it, and threw it over the back of
a chair, he retired to the corner from which he had risen: wagging
his tail as he went, to show that he was as well satisfied as it was
in his nature to be.

‘Well!’ said Sikes.

‘Well, my dear,’ replied the Jew. - ‘Ah! Nancy.’

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough of embarrassment
to imply a doubt of its reception; for Mr. Fagin and his young
friend had not met, since she had interfered in behalf of Oliver.
All doubts upon the subject, if he had any, were speedily removed by
the young lady’s behaviour. She took her feet off the fender, pushed
back her chair, and bade Fagin draw up his, without saying more
about it: for it was a cold night, and no mistake.

‘It is cold, Nancy dear,’ said the Jew, as he warmed his skinny
hands over the fire. ‘It seems to go right through one,’ added the
old man, touching his side.

‘It must be a piercer, if it finds its way through your heart,’ said
Mr. Sikes. ‘Give him something to drink, Nancy. Burn my body, make
haste! It’s enough to turn a man ill, to see his lean old carcase
shivering in that way, like a ugly ghost just rose from the grave.’

Nancy quickly brought a bottle from a cupboard, in which there were
many: which, to judge from the diversity of their appearance, were
filled with several kinds of liquids. Sikes pouring out a glass of
brandy, bade the Jew drink it off.

‘Quite enough, quite, thankee, Bill,’ replied the Jew, putting down
the glass after just setting his lips to it.

‘What! You’re afraid of our getting the better of you, are you?’
inquired Sikes, fixing his eyes on the Jew. ‘Ugh!’

With a hoarse grunt of contempt, Mr. Sikes seized the glass, and
threw the remainder of its contents into the ashes: as a preparatory
ceremony to filling it again for himself: which he did at once.

The Jew glanced round the room, as his companion tossed down the
second glassful; not in curiousity, for he had seen it often before;
but in a restless and suspicious manner habitual to him. It was a
meanly furnished apartment, with nothing but the contents of the
closet to induce the belief that its occupier was anything but a
working man; and with no more suspicious articles displayed to view
than two or three heavy bludgeons which stood in a corner, and a
‘life-preserver’ that hung over the chimney-piece.

‘There,’ said Sikes, smacking his lips. ‘Now I’m ready.’

‘For business?’ inquired the Jew.

‘For business,’ replied Sikes; ‘so say what you’ve got to say.’

‘About the crib at Chertsey, Bill?’ said the Jew, drawing his chair
forward, and speaking in a very low voice.

‘Yes. Wot about it?’ inquired Sikes.

‘Ah! you know what I mean, my dear,’ said the Jew. ‘He knows what I
mean, Nancy; don’t he?’

‘No, he don’t,’ sneered Mr. Sikes. ‘Or he won’t, and that’s the same
thing. Speak out, and call things by their right names; don’t sit
there, winking and blinking, and talking to me in hints, as if
you warn’t the very first that thought about the robbery. Wot d’ye
mean?’

‘Hush, Bill, hush!’ said the Jew, who had in vain attempted to stop
this burst of indignation; ‘somebody will hear us, my dear. Somebody
will hear us.’

‘Let ‘em hear!’ said Sikes; ‘I don’t care.’ But as Mr. Sikes _did_
care, on reflection, he dropped his voice as he said the words, and
grew calmer.

‘There, there,’ said the Jew, coaxingly. ‘It was only my caution,
nothing more. Now, my dear, about that crib at Chertsey; when is it
to be done, Bill, eh? When is it to be done? Such plate, my dear,
such plate!’ said the Jew: rubbing his hands, and elevating his
eyebrows in a rapture of anticipation.

‘Not at all,’ replied Sikes coldly.

‘Not to be done at all!’ echoed the Jew, leaning back in his chair.

‘No, not at all,’ rejoined Sikes. ‘At least it can’t be a put-up
job, as we expected.’

‘Then it hasn’t been properly gone about,’ said the Jew, turning
pale with anger. ‘Don’t tell me!’

‘But I will tell you,’ retorted Sikes. ‘Who are you that’s not to be
told? I tell you that Toby Crackit has been hanging about the place
for a fortnight, and he can’t get one of the servants in line.’

‘Do you mean to tell me, Bill,’ said the Jew: softening as the other
grew heated: ‘that neither of the two men in the house can be got
over?’

‘Yes, I do mean to tell you so,’ replied Sikes. ‘The old lady has
had ‘em these twenty years; and if you were to give ‘em five hundred
pound, they wouldn’t be in it.’

‘But do you mean to say, my dear,’ remonstrated the Jew, ‘that the
women can’t be got over?’

‘Not a bit of it,’ replied Sikes.

‘Not by flash Toby Crackit?’ said the Jew incredulously. ‘Think what
women are, Bill.’

‘No; not even by flash Toby Crackit,’ replied Sikes. ‘He says he’s
worn sham whiskers, and a canary waistcoat, the whole blessed time
he’s been loitering down there, and it’s all of no use.’

‘He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers, my
dear,’ said the Jew.

‘So he did,’ rejoined Sikes, ‘and they warn’t of no more use than
the other plant.’

The Jew looked blank at this information. After ruminating for some
minutes with his chin sunk on his breast, he raised his head and
said, with a deep sigh, that if flash Toby Crackit reported aright,
he feared the game was up.

‘And yet,’ said the old man, dropping his hands on his knees, ‘it’s
a sad thing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set our hearts
upon it.’

‘So it is,’ said Mr. Sikes. ‘Worse luck!’

A long silence ensued; during which the Jew was plunged in deep
thought, with his face wrinkled into an expression of villainy
perfectly demoniacal. Sikes eyed him furtively from time to time.
Nancy, apparently fearful of irritating the housebreaker, sat with
her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had been deaf to all that
passed.

‘Fagin,’ said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness that prevailed;
‘is it worth fifty shiners extra, if it’s safely done from the
outside?’

‘Yes,’ said the Jew, as suddenly rousing himself.

‘Is it a bargain?’ inquired Sikes.

‘Yes, my dear, yes,’ rejoined the Jew; his eyes glistening, and
every muscle in his face working, with the excitement that the
inquiry had awakened.

‘Then,’ said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew’s hand, with some
disdain, ‘let it come off as soon as you like. Toby and me were over
the garden-wall the night afore last, sounding the panels of the
door and shutters. The crib’s barred up at night like a jail; but
there’s one part we can crack, safe and softly.’

‘Which is that, Bill?’ asked the Jew eagerly.

‘Why,’ whispered Sikes, ‘as you cross the lawn - ’

‘Yes?’ said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyes almost
starting out of it.

‘Umph!’ cried Sikes, stopping short, as the girl, scarcely moving
her head, looked suddenly round, and pointed for an instant to the
Jew’s face. ‘Never mind which part it is. You can’t do it without
me, I know; but it’s best to be on the safe side when one deals with
you.’

‘As you like, my dear, as you like’ replied the Jew. ‘Is there no
help wanted, but yours and Toby’s?’

‘None,’ said Sikes. ‘Cept a centre-bit and a boy. The first we’ve
both got; the second you must find us.’

‘A boy!’ exclaimed the Jew. ‘Oh! then it’s a panel, eh?’

‘Never mind wot it is!’ replied Sikes. ‘I want a boy, and he musn’t
be a big ‘un. Lord!’ said Mr. Sikes, reflectively, ‘if I’d only got
that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper’s! He kept him small on
purpose, and let him out by the job. But the father gets lagged; and
then the Juvenile Delinquent Society comes, and takes the boy away
from a trade where he was earning money, teaches him to read and
write, and in time makes a ‘prentice of him. And so they go on,’
said Mr. Sikes, his wrath rising with the recollection of his
wrongs, ‘so they go on; and, if they’d got money enough (which it’s
a Providence they haven’t,) we shouldn’t have half a dozen boys left
in the whole trade, in a year or two.’

‘No more we should,’ acquiesced the Jew, who had been considering
during this speech, and had only caught the last sentence. ‘Bill!’

‘What now?’ inquired Sikes.

The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing at the
fire; and intimated, by a sign, that he would have her told to leave
the room. Sikes shrugged his shoulders impatiently, as if he
thought the precaution unnecessary; but complied, nevertheless, by
requesting Miss Nancy to fetch him a jug of beer.

‘You don’t want any beer,’ said Nancy, folding her arms, and
retaining her seat very composedly.

‘I tell you I do!’ replied Sikes.

‘Nonsense,’ rejoined the girl coolly, ‘Go on, Fagin. I know what
he’s going to say, Bill; he needn’t mind me.’

The Jew still hesitated. Sikes looked from one to the other in some
surprise.

‘Why, you don’t mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?’ he asked at
length. ‘You’ve known her long enough to trust her, or the Devil’s
in it. She ain’t one to blab. Are you Nancy?’

‘_I_ should think not!’ replied the young lady: drawing her chair up
to the table, and putting her elbows upon it.

‘No, no, my dear, I know you’re not,’ said the Jew; ‘but - ’ and
again the old man paused.

‘But wot?’ inquired Sikes.

‘I didn’t know whether she mightn’t p’r’aps be out of sorts, you
know, my dear, as she was the other night,’ replied the Jew.

At this confession, Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh; and,
swallowing a glass of brandy, shook her head with an air of
defiance, and burst into sundry exclamations of ‘Keep the game
a-going!’ ‘Never say die!’ and the like. These seemed to have the
effect of re-assuring both gentlemen; for the Jew nodded his
head with a satisfied air, and resumed his seat: as did Mr. Sikes
likewise.

‘Now, Fagin,’ said Nancy with a laugh. ‘Tell Bill at once, about
Oliver!’

‘Ha! you’re a clever one, my dear: the sharpest girl I ever saw!’
said the Jew, patting her on the neck. ‘It _was_ about Oliver I was
going to speak, sure enough. Ha! ha! ha!’

‘What about him?’ demanded Sikes.

‘He’s the boy for you, my dear,’ replied the Jew in a hoarse
whisper; laying his finger on the side of his nose, and grinning
frightfully.

‘He!’ exclaimed. Sikes.

‘Have him, Bill!’ said Nancy. ‘I would, if I was in your place. He
mayn’t be so much up, as any of the others; but that’s not what you
want, if he’s only to open a door for you. Depend upon it he’s a
safe one, Bill.’

‘I know he is,’ rejoined Fagin. ‘He’s been in good training these
last few weeks, and it’s time he began to work for his bread.
Besides, the others are all too big.’

‘Well, he is just the size I want,’ said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.

‘And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear,’ interposed the
Jew; ‘he can’t help himself. That is, if you frighten him enough.’

‘Frighten him!’ echoed Sikes. ‘It’ll be no sham frightening, mind
you. If there’s anything queer about him when we once get into the
work; in for a penny, in for a pound. You won’t see him alive again,
Fagin. Think of that, before you send him. Mark my words!’ said
the robber, poising a crowbar, which he had drawn from under the
bedstead.

‘I’ve thought of it all,’ said the Jew with energy. ‘I’ve - I’ve had
my eye upon him, my dears, close - close. Once let him feel that he
is one of us; once fill his mind with the idea that he has been a
thief; and he’s ours! Ours for his life. Oho! It couldn’t have come
about better! The old man crossed his arms upon his breast; and,
drawing his head and shoulders into a heap, literally hugged himself
for joy.

‘Ours!’ said Sikes. ‘Yours, you mean.’

‘Perhaps I do, my dear,’ said the Jew, with a shrill chuckle. ‘Mine,
if you like, Bill.’

‘And wot,’ said Sikes, scowling fiercely on his agreeable friend,
‘wot makes you take so much pains about one chalk-faced kid, when
you know there are fifty boys snoozing about Common Garden every
night, as you might pick and choose from?’

‘Because they’re of no use to me, my dear,’ replied the Jew, with
some confusion, ‘not worth the taking. Their looks convict ‘em when
they get into trouble, and I lose ‘em all. With this boy, properly
managed, my dears, I could do what I couldn’t with twenty of them.
Besides,’ said the Jew, recovering his self-possession, ‘he has us
now if he could only give us leg-bail again; and he must be in the
same boat with us. Never mind how he came there; it’s quite enough
for my power over him that he was in a robbery; that’s all I want.
Now, how much better this is, than being obliged to put the poor
leetle boy out of the way - which would be dangerous, and we should
lose by it besides.’

‘When is it to be done?’ asked Nancy, stopping some turbulent
exclamation on the part of Mr. Sikes, expressive of the disgust with
which he received Fagin’s affectation of humanity.

‘Ah, to be sure,’ said the Jew; ‘when is it to be done, Bill?’

‘I planned with Toby, the night arter to-morrow,’ rejoined Sikes in
a surly voice, ‘if he heerd nothing from me to the contrairy.’

‘Good,’ said the Jew; ‘there’s no moon.’

‘No,’ rejoined Sikes.

‘It’s all arranged about bringing off the swag, is it?’ asked the
Jew.

Sikes nodded.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 13 of 25)