Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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‘And about - ’

‘Oh, ah, it’s all planned,’ rejoined Sikes, interrupting him. ‘Never
mind particulars. You’d better bring the boy here to-morrow night.
I shall get off the stone an hour arter daybreak. Then you hold your
tongue, and keep the melting-pot ready, and that’s all you’ll have
to do.’

After some discussion, in which all three took an active part, it
was decided that Nancy should repair to the Jew’s next evening when
the night had set in, and bring Oliver away with her; Fagin craftily
observing, that, if he evinced any disinclination to the task, he
would be more willing to accompany the girl who had so recently
interfered in his behalf, than anybody else. It was also solemnly
arranged that poor Oliver should, for the purposes of the
contemplated expedition, be unreservedly consigned to the care
and custody of Mr. William Sikes; and further, that the said Sikes
should deal with him as he thought fit; and should not be held
responsible by the Jew for any mischance or evil that might be
necessary to visit him: it being understood that, to render the
compact in this respect binding, any representations made by
Mr. Sikes on his return should be required to be confirmed and
corroborated, in all important particulars, by the testimony of
flash Toby Crackit.

These preliminaries adjusted, Mr. Sikes proceeded to drink brandy at
a furious rate, and to flourish the crowbar in an alarming manner;
yelling forth, at the same time, most unmusical snatches of song,
mingled with wild execrations. At length, in a fit of professional
enthusiasm, he insisted upon producing his box of housebreaking
tools: which he had no sooner stumbled in with, and opened for
the purpose of explaining the nature and properties of the various
implements it contained, and the peculiar beauties of their
construction, than he fell over the box upon the floor, and went to
sleep where he fell.

‘Good-night, Nancy,’ said the Jew, muffling himself up as before.

‘Good-night.’

Their eyes met, and the Jew scrutinised her, narrowly. There was no
flinching about the girl. She was as true and earnest in the matter
as Toby Crackit himself could be.

The Jew again bade her good-night, and, bestowing a sly kick upon
the prostrate form of Mr. Sikes while her back was turned, groped
downstairs.

‘Always the way!’ muttered the Jew to himself as he turned homeward.
‘The worst of these women is, that a very little thing serves to
call up some long-forgotten feeling; and, the best of them is, that
it never lasts. Ha! ha! The man against the child, for a bag of
gold!’

Beguiling the time with these pleasant reflections, Mr. Fagin wended
his way, through mud and mire, to his gloomy abode: where the Dodger
was sitting up, impatiently awaiting his return.

‘Is Oliver a-bed? I want to speak to him,’ was his first remark as
they descended the stairs.

‘Hours ago,’ replied the Dodger, throwing open a door. ‘Here he is!’

The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor; so
pale with anxiety, and sadness, and the closeness of his prison,
that he looked like death; not death as it shows in shroud and
coffin, but in the guise it wears when life has just departed; when
a young and gentle spirit has, but an instant, fled to Heaven, and
the gross air of the world has not had time to breathe upon the
changing dust it hallowed.

‘Not now,’ said the Jew, turning softly away. ‘To-morrow.
To-morrow.’



CHAPTER XX - WHEREIN OLIVER IS DELIVERED OVER TO MR. WILLIAM SIKES

When Oliver awoke in the morning, he was a good deal surprised to
find that a new pair of shoes, with strong thick soles, had been
placed at his bedside; and that his old shoes had been removed. At
first, he was pleased with the discovery: hoping that it might
be the forerunner of his release; but such thoughts were quickly
dispelled, on his sitting down to breakfast along with the Jew, who
told him, in a tone and manner which increased his alarm, that he
was to be taken to the residence of Bill Sikes that night.

‘To - to - stop there, sir?’ asked Oliver, anxiously.

‘No, no, my dear. Not to stop there,’ replied the Jew. ‘We shouldn’t
like to lose you. Don’t be afraid, Oliver, you shall come back to
us again. Ha! ha! ha! We won’t be so cruel as to send you away, my
dear. Oh no, no!’

The old man, who was stooping over the fire toasting a piece of
bread, looked round as he bantered Oliver thus; and chuckled as if
to show that he knew he would still be very glad to get away if he
could.

‘I suppose,’ said the Jew, fixing his eyes on Oliver, ‘you want to
know what you’re going to Bill’s for - -eh, my dear?’

Oliver coloured, involuntarily, to find that the old thief had been
reading his thoughts; but boldly said, Yes, he did want to know.

‘Why, do you think?’ inquired Fagin, parrying the question.

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

‘Bah!’ said the Jew, turning away with a disappointed countenance
from a close perusal of the boy’s face. ‘Wait till Bill tells you,
then.’

The Jew seemed much vexed by Oliver’s not expressing any greater
curiosity on the subject; but the truth is, that, although Oliver
felt very anxious, he was too much confused by the earnest cunning
of Fagin’s looks, and his own speculations, to make any further
inquiries just then. He had no other opportunity: for the Jew
remained very surly and silent till night: when he prepared to go
abroad.

‘You may burn a candle,’ said the Jew, putting one upon the table.
‘And here’s a book for you to read, till they come to fetch you.
Good-night!’

‘Good-night!’ replied Oliver, softly.

The Jew walked to the door: looking over his shoulder at the boy as
he went. Suddenly stopping, he called him by his name.

Oliver looked up; the Jew, pointing to the candle, motioned him
to light it. He did so; and, as he placed the candlestick upon the
table, saw that the Jew was gazing fixedly at him, with lowering and
contracted brows, from the dark end of the room.

‘Take heed, Oliver! take heed!’ said the old man, shaking his right
hand before him in a warning manner. ‘He’s a rough man, and thinks
nothing of blood when his own is up. Whatever falls out, say
nothing; and do what he bids you. Mind!’ Placing a strong emphasis
on the last word, he suffered his features gradually to resolve
themselves into a ghastly grin, and, nodding his head, left the
room.

Oliver leaned his head upon his hand when the old man disappeared,
and pondered, with a trembling heart, on the words he had just
heard. The more he thought of the Jew’s admonition, the more he was
at a loss to divine its real purpose and meaning.

He could think of no bad object to be attained by sending him to
Sikes, which would not be equally well answered by his remaining
with Fagin; and after meditating for a long time, concluded that he
had been selected to perform some ordinary menial offices for the
housebreaker, until another boy, better suited for his purpose
could be engaged. He was too well accustomed to suffering, and had
suffered too much where he was, to bewail the prospect of change
very severely. He remained lost in thought for some minutes; and
then, with a heavy sigh, snuffed the candle, and, taking up the book
which the Jew had left with him, began to read.

He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on a
passage which attracted his attention, he soon became intent upon
the volume. It was a history of the lives and trials of great
criminals; and the pages were soiled and thumbed with use. Here,
he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood run cold; of secret
murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; of bodies
hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which would not
keep them down, deep as they were, but had yielded them up at last,
after many years, and so maddened the murderers with the sight, that
in their horror they had confessed their guilt, and yelled for the
gibbet to end their agony. Here, too, he read of men who, lying in
their beds at dead of night, had been tempted (so they said) and led
on, by their own bad thoughts, to such dreadful bloodshed as it
made the flesh creep, and the limbs quail, to think of. The terrible
descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed
to turn red with gore; and the words upon them, to be sounded in his
ears, as if they were whispered, in hollow murmurs, by the spirits
of the dead.

In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it from
him. Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to spare him
from such deeds; and rather to will that he should die at once, than
be reserved for crimes, so fearful and appalling. By degrees, he
grew more calm, and besought, in a low and broken voice, that he
might be rescued from his present dangers; and that if any aid were
to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who had never known the love
of friends or kindred, it might come to him now, when, desolate and
deserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt.

He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head buried
in his hands, when a rustling noise aroused him.

‘What’s that!’ he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a figure
standing by the door. ‘Who’s there?’

‘Me. Only me,’ replied a tremulous voice.

Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the
door. It was Nancy.

‘Put down the light,’ said the girl, turning away her head. ‘It
hurts my eyes.’

Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she were
ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him:
and wrung her hands; but made no reply.

‘God forgive me!’ she cried after a while, ‘I never thought of
this.’

‘Has anything happened?’ asked Oliver. ‘Can I help you? I will if I
can. I will, indeed.’

She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a
gurgling sound, gasped for breath.

‘Nancy!’ cried Oliver, ‘What is it?’

The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the
ground; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her: and
shivered with cold.

Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat
there, for a little time, without speaking; but at length she raised
her head, and looked round.

‘I don’t know what comes over me sometimes,’ said she, affecting to
busy herself in arranging her dress; ‘it’s this damp dirty room, I
think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?’

‘Am I to go with you?’ asked Oliver.

‘Yes. I have come from Bill,’ replied the girl. ‘You are to go with
me.’

‘What for?’ asked Oliver, recoiling.

‘What for?’ echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them
again, the moment they encountered the boy’s face. ‘Oh! For no
harm.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Oliver: who had watched her closely.

‘Have it your own way,’ rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh. ‘For
no good, then.’

Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl’s better
feelings, and, for an instant, thought of appealing to her
compassion for his helpless state. But, then, the thought darted
across his mind that it was barely eleven o’clock; and that many
people were still in the streets: of whom surely some might be found
to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured to him, he
stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was ready.

Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his
companion. She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon him
a look of intelligence which sufficiently showed that she guessed
what had been passing in his thoughts.

‘Hush!’ said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the door
as she looked cautiously round. ‘You can’t help yourself. I have
tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round
and round. If ever you are to get loose from here, this is not the
time.’

Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face
with great surprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her countenance
was white and agitated; and she trembled with very earnestness.

‘I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and I
do now,’ continued the girl aloud; ‘for those who would have fetched
you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have
promised for your being quiet and silent; if you are not, you will
only do harm to yourself and me too, and perhaps be my death. See
here! I have borne all this for you already, as true as God sees me
show it.’

She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms;
and continued, with great rapidity:

‘Remember this! And don’t let me suffer more for you, just now. If
I could help you, I would; but I have not the power. They don’t mean
to harm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of yours. Hush!
Every word from you is a blow for me. Give me your hand. Make haste!
Your hand!’

She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers, and,
blowing out the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The door
was opened, quickly, by some one shrouded in the darkness, and was
as quickly closed, when they had passed out. A hackney-cabriolet
was in waiting; with the same vehemence which she had exhibited in
addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in with her, and drew the
curtains close. The driver wanted no directions, but lashed his
horse into full speed, without the delay of an instant.

The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to pour
into his ear, the warnings and assurances she had already imparted.
All was so quick and hurried, that he had scarcely time to recollect
where he was, or how he came there, when the carriage stopped at
the house to which the Jew’s steps had been directed on the previous
evening.

For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the empty
street, and a cry for help hung upon his lips. But the girl’s voice
was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of agony to remember
her, that he had not the heart to utter it. While he hesitated, the
opportunity was gone; he was already in the house, and the door was
shut.

‘This way,’ said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time.
‘Bill!’

‘Hallo!’ replied Sikes: appearing at the head of the stairs, with a
candle. ‘Oh! That’s the time of day. Come on!’

This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly
hearty welcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes’ temperament. Nancy,
appearing much gratified thereby, saluted him cordially.

‘Bull’s-eye’s gone home with Tom,’ observed Sikes, as he lighted
them up. ‘He’d have been in the way.’

‘That’s right,’ rejoined Nancy.

‘So you’ve got the kid,’ said Sikes when they had all reached the
room: closing the door as he spoke.

‘Yes, here he is,’ replied Nancy.

‘Did he come quiet?’ inquired Sikes.

‘Like a lamb,’ rejoined Nancy.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver; ‘for
the sake of his young carcase: as would otherways have suffered for
it. Come here, young ‘un; and let me read you a lectur’, which is as
well got over at once.’

Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver’s cap and
threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat
himself down by the table, and stood the boy in front of him.

‘Now, first: do you know wot this is?’ inquired Sikes, taking up a
pocket-pistol which lay on the table.

Oliver replied in the affirmative.

‘Well, then, look here,’ continued Sikes. ‘This is powder; that
‘ere’s a bullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for waddin’.’

Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies referred
to; and Mr. Sikes proceeded to load the pistol, with great nicety
and deliberation.

‘Now it’s loaded,’ said Mr. Sikes, when he had finished.

‘Yes, I see it is, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘Well,’ said the robber, grasping Oliver’s wrist, and putting the
barrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which moment the
boy could not repress a start; ‘if you speak a word when you’re out
o’doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in
your head without notice. So, if you _do_ make up your mind to speak
without leave, say your prayers first.’

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to increase
its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.

‘As near as I know, there isn’t anybody as would be asking very
partickler arter you, if you _was_ disposed of; so I needn’t take
this devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if it
warn’t for your own good. D’ye hear me?’

‘The short and the long of what you mean,’ said Nancy: speaking very
emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to bespeak his
serious attention to her words: ‘is, that if you’re crossed by him
in this job you have on hand, you’ll prevent his ever telling tales
afterwards, by shooting him through the head, and will take your
chance of swinging for it, as you do for a great many other things
in the way of business, every month of your life.’

‘That’s it!’ observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; ‘women can always put
things in fewest words. - Except when it’s blowing up; and then they
lengthens it out. And now that he’s thoroughly up to it, let’s have
some supper, and get a snooze before starting.’

In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth;
disappearing for a few minutes, she presently returned with a pot of
porter and a dish of sheep’s heads: which gave occasion to several
pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr. Sikes, founded upon the
singular coincidence of ‘jemmies’ being a can name, common to them,
and also to an ingenious implement much used in his profession.
Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps by the immediate
prospect of being on active service, was in great spirits and
good humour; in proof whereof, it may be here remarked, that he
humourously drank all the beer at a draught, and did not utter, on
a rough calculation, more than four-score oaths during the whole
progress of the meal.

Supper being ended - it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no
great appetite for it - Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses
of spirits and water, and threw himself on the bed; ordering Nancy,
with many imprecations in case of failure, to call him at five
precisely. Oliver stretched himself in his clothes, by command of
the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; and the girl,
mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse them at the
appointed time.

For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that
Nancy might seek that opportunity of whispering some further advice;
but the girl sat brooding over the fire, without moving, save now
and then to trim the light. Weary with watching and anxiety, he at
length fell asleep.

When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikes was
thrusting various articles into the pockets of his great-coat, which
hung over the back of a chair. Nancy was busily engaged in preparing
breakfast. It was not yet daylight; for the candle was still
burning, and it was quite dark outside. A sharp rain, too, was
beating against the window-panes; and the sky looked black and
cloudy.

‘Now, then!’ growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; ‘half-past five!
Look sharp, or you’ll get no breakfast; for it’s late as it is.’

Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken some
breakfast, he replied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by saying that
he was quite ready.

Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief to tie
round his throat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button over
his shoulders. Thus attired, he gave his hand to the robber, who,
merely pausing to show him with a menacing gesture that he had that
same pistol in a side-pocket of his great-coat, clasped it firmly in
his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy, led him away.

Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in the
hope of meeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed her old
seat in front of the fire, and sat, perfectly motionless before it.



CHAPTER XXI - THE EXPEDITION

It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street; blowing
and raining hard; and the clouds looking dull and stormy. The night
had been very wet: large pools of water had collected in the road:
and the kennels were overflowing. There was a faint glimmering of
the coming day in the sky; but it rather aggravated than relieved
the gloom of the scene: the sombre light only serving to pale that
which the street lamps afforded, without shedding any warmer or
brighter tints upon the wet house-tops, and dreary streets. There
appeared to be nobody stirring in that quarter of the town; the
windows of the houses were all closely shut; and the streets through
which they passed, were noiseless and empty.

By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the day had
fairly begun to break. Many of the lamps were already extinguished;
a few country waggons were slowly toiling on, towards London; now
and then, a stage-coach, covered with mud, rattled briskly by: the
driver bestowing, as he passed, an admonitory lash upon the
heavy waggoner who, by keeping on the wrong side of the road, had
endangered his arriving at the office, a quarter of a minute after
his time. The public-houses, with gas-lights burning inside, were
already open. By degrees, other shops began to be unclosed, and a
few scattered people were met with. Then, came straggling groups of
labourers going to their work; then, men and women with fish-baskets
on their heads; donkey-carts laden with vegetables; chaise-carts
filled with live-stock or whole carcasses of meat; milk-women with
pails; an unbroken concourse of people, trudging out with various
supplies to the eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached the
City, the noise and traffic gradually increased; when they threaded
the streets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled into
a roar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely to be,
till night came on again, and the busy morning of half the London
population had begun.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury
square, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into Barbican:
thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; from which latter
place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver Twist
with amazement.

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep,
with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the
reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which
seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the
pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as
could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied
up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen,
three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys,
thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled
together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs,
the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the
grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts,
oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and
roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding,
pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and
discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market;
and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly
running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered
it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the
senses.

Mr. Sikes, dragging Oliver after him, elbowed his way through the
thickest of the crowd, and bestowed very little attention on the
numerous sights and sounds, which so astonished the boy. He nodded,
twice or thrice, to a passing friend; and, resisting as many
invitations to take a morning dram, pressed steadily onward, until
they were clear of the turmoil, and had made their way through
Hosier Lane into Holborn.

‘Now, young ‘un!’ said Sikes, looking up at the clock of St.
Andrew’s Church, ‘hard upon seven! you must step out. Come, don’t
lag behind already, Lazy-legs!’


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 14 of 25)