Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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Mr. Sikes accompanied this speech with a jerk at his little
companion’s wrist; Oliver, quickening his pace into a kind of trot
between a fast walk and a run, kept up with the rapid strides of the
house-breaker as well as he could.

They held their course at this rate, until they had passed Hyde Park
corner, and were on their way to Kensington: when Sikes relaxed his
pace, until an empty cart which was at some little distance behind,
came up. Seeing ‘Hounslow’ written on it, he asked the driver with
as much civility as he could assume, if he would give them a lift as
far as Isleworth.

‘Jump up,’ said the man. ‘Is that your boy?’

‘Yes; he’s my boy,’ replied Sikes, looking hard at Oliver, and
putting his hand abstractedly into the pocket where the pistol was.

‘Your father walks rather too quick for you, don’t he, my man?’
inquired the driver: seeing that Oliver was out of breath.

‘Not a bit of it,’ replied Sikes, interposing. ‘He’s used to it.

Here, take hold of my hand, Ned. In with you!’

Thus addressing Oliver, he helped him into the cart; and the driver,
pointing to a heap of sacks, told him to lie down there, and rest
himself.

As they passed the different mile-stones, Oliver wondered, more
and more, where his companion meant to take him. Kensington,
Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentford, were all passed; and
yet they went on as steadily as if they had only just begun their
journey. At length, they came to a public-house called the Coach and
Horses; a little way beyond which, another road appeared to run off.
And here, the cart stopped.

Sikes dismounted with great precipitation, holding Oliver by the
hand all the while; and lifting him down directly, bestowed a
furious look upon him, and rapped the side-pocket with his fist, in
a significant manner.

‘Good-bye, boy,’ said the man.

‘He’s sulky,’ replied Sikes, giving him a shake; ‘he’s sulky. A
young dog! Don’t mind him.’

‘Not I!’ rejoined the other, getting into his cart. ‘It’s a fine
day, after all.’ And he drove away.

Sikes waited until he had fairly gone; and then, telling Oliver he
might look about him if he wanted, once again led him onward on his
journey.

They turned round to the left, a short way past the public-house;
and then, taking a right-hand road, walked on for a long time:
passing many large gardens and gentlemen’s houses on both sides
of the way, and stopping for nothing but a little beer, until they
reached a town. Here against the wall of a house, Oliver saw written
up in pretty large letters, ‘Hampton.’ They lingered about, in the
fields, for some hours. At length they came back into the town; and,
turning into an old public-house with a defaced sign-board, ordered
some dinner by the kitchen fire.

The kitchen was an old, low-roofed room; with a great beam across
the middle of the ceiling, and benches, with high backs to them, by
the fire; on which were seated several rough men in smock-frocks,
drinking and smoking. They took no notice of Oliver; and very little
of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very little notice of them, he and
his young comrade sat in a corner by themselves, without being much
troubled by their company.

They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat so long after it, while
Mr. Sikes indulged himself with three or four pipes, that Oliver
began to feel quite certain they were not going any further. Being
much tired with the walk, and getting up so early, he dozed a little
at first; then, quite overpowered by fatigue and the fumes of the
tobacco, fell asleep.

It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes. Rousing
himself sufficiently to sit up and look about him, he found that
worthy in close fellowship and communication with a labouring man,
over a pint of ale.

‘So, you’re going on to Lower Halliford, are you?’ inquired Sikes.

‘Yes, I am,’ replied the man, who seemed a little the worse - or
better, as the case might be - for drinking; ‘and not slow about it
neither. My horse hasn’t got a load behind him going back, as he had
coming up in the mornin’; and he won’t be long a-doing of it. Here’s
luck to him. Ecod! he’s a good ‘un!’

‘Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there?’ demanded
Sikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.

‘If you’re going directly, I can,’ replied the man, looking out of
the pot. ‘Are you going to Halliford?’

‘Going on to Shepperton,’ replied Sikes.

‘I’m your man, as far as I go,’ replied the other. ‘Is all paid,
Becky?’

‘Yes, the other gentleman’s paid,’ replied the girl.

‘I say!’ said the man, with tipsy gravity; ‘that won’t do, you
know.’

‘Why not?’ rejoined Sikes. ‘You’re a-going to accommodate us, and
wot’s to prevent my standing treat for a pint or so, in return?’

The stranger reflected upon this argument, with a very profound
face; having done so, he seized Sikes by the hand: and declared he
was a real good fellow. To which Mr. Sikes replied, he was joking;
as, if he had been sober, there would have been strong reason to
suppose he was.

After the exchange of a few more compliments, they bade the company
good-night, and went out; the girl gathering up the pots and glasses
as they did so, and lounging out to the door, with her hands full,
to see the party start.

The horse, whose health had been drunk in his absence, was standing
outside: ready harnessed to the cart. Oliver and Sikes got in
without any further ceremony; and the man to whom he belonged,
having lingered for a minute or two ‘to bear him up,’ and to defy
the hostler and the world to produce his equal, mounted also. Then,
the hostler was told to give the horse his head; and, his head being
given him, he made a very unpleasant use of it: tossing it into the
air with great disdain, and running into the parlour windows over
the way; after performing those feats, and supporting himself for
a short time on his hind-legs, he started off at great speed, and
rattled out of the town right gallantly.

The night was very dark. A damp mist rose from the river, and the
marshy ground about; and spread itself over the dreary fields. It
was piercing cold, too; all was gloomy and black. Not a word was
spoken; for the driver had grown sleepy; and Sikes was in no mood to
lead him into conversation. Oliver sat huddled together, in a corner
of the cart; bewildered with alarm and apprehension; and figuring
strange objects in the gaunt trees, whose branches waved grimly to
and fro, as if in some fantastic joy at the desolation of the scene.

As they passed Sunbury Church, the clock struck seven. There was a
light in the ferry-house window opposite: which streamed across the
road, and threw into more sombre shadow a dark yew-tree with graves
beneath it. There was a dull sound of falling water not far off;
and the leaves of the old tree stirred gently in the night wind. It
seemed like quiet music for the repose of the dead.

Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonely
road. Two or three miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikes alighted,
took Oliver by the hand, and they once again walked on.

They turned into no house at Shepperton, as the weary boy had
expected; but still kept walking on, in mud and darkness, through
gloomy lanes and over cold open wastes, until they came within sight
of the lights of a town at no great distance. On looking intently
forward, Oliver saw that the water was just below them, and that
they were coming to the foot of a bridge.

Sikes kept straight on, until they were close upon the bridge; then
turned suddenly down a bank upon the left.

‘The water!’ thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. ‘He has brought
me to this lonely place to murder me!’

He was about to throw himself on the ground, and make one struggle
for his young life, when he saw that they stood before a solitary
house: all ruinous and decayed. There was a window on each side
of the dilapidated entrance; and one story above; but no light was
visible. The house was dark, dismantled: and the all appearance,
uninhabited.

Sikes, with Oliver’s hand still in his, softly approached the low
porch, and raised the latch. The door yielded to the pressure, and
they passed in together.



CHAPTER XXII - THE BURGLARY

‘Hallo!’ cried a loud, hoarse voice, as soon as they set foot in the
passage.

‘Don’t make such a row,’ said Sikes, bolting the door. ‘Show a glim,
Toby.’

‘Aha! my pal!’ cried the same voice. ‘A glim, Barney, a glim! Show
the gentleman in, Barney; wake up first, if convenient.’

The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article,
at the person he addressed, to rouse him from his slumbers: for the
noise of a wooden body, falling violently, was heard; and then an
indistinct muttering, as of a man between sleep and awake.

‘Do you hear?’ cried the same voice. ‘There’s Bill Sikes in the
passage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleeping there,
as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothing stronger. Are
you any fresher now, or do you want the iron candlestick to wake you
thoroughly?’

A pair of slipshod feet shuffled, hastily, across the bare floor of
the room, as this interrogatory was put; and there issued, from a
door on the right hand; first, a feeble candle: and next, the
form of the same individual who has been heretofore described as
labouring under the infirmity of speaking through his nose, and
officiating as waiter at the public-house on Saffron Hill.

‘Bister Sikes!’ exclaimed Barney, with real or counterfeit joy; ‘cub
id, sir; cub id.’

‘Here! you get on first,’ said Sikes, putting Oliver in front of
him. ‘Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels.’

Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver before
him; and they entered a low dark room with a smoky fire, two or
three broken chairs, a table, and a very old couch: on which, with
his legs much higher than his head, a man was reposing at full
length, smoking a long clay pipe. He was dressed in a smartly-cut
snuff-coloured coat, with large brass buttons; an orange
neckerchief; a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat; and drab
breeches. Mr. Crackit (for he it was) had no very great quantity
of hair, either upon his head or face; but what he had, was of a
reddish dye, and tortured into long corkscrew curls, through which
he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers, ornamented with
large common rings. He was a trifle above the middle size, and
apparently rather weak in the legs; but this circumstance by no
means detracted from his own admiration of his top-boots, which he
contemplated, in their elevated situation, with lively satisfaction.

‘Bill, my boy!’ said this figure, turning his head towards the door,
‘I’m glad to see you. I was almost afraid you’d given it up: in
which case I should have made a personal wentur. Hallo!’

Uttering this exclamation in a tone of great surprise, as his eyes
rested on Oliver, Mr. Toby Crackit brought himself into a sitting
posture, and demanded who that was.

‘The boy. Only the boy!’ replied Sikes, drawing a chair towards the
fire.

‘Wud of Bister Fagid’s lads,’ exclaimed Barney, with a grin.

‘Fagin’s, eh!’ exclaimed Toby, looking at Oliver. ‘Wot an inwalable
boy that’ll make, for the old ladies’ pockets in chapels! His mug is
a fortin’ to him.’

‘There - there’s enough of that,’ interposed Sikes, impatiently; and
stooping over his recumbant friend, he whispered a few words in his
ear: at which Mr. Crackit laughed immensely, and honoured Oliver
with a long stare of astonishment.

‘Now,’ said Sikes, as he resumed his seat, ‘if you’ll give us
something to eat and drink while we’re waiting, you’ll put some
heart in us; or in me, at all events. Sit down by the fire, younker,
and rest yourself; for you’ll have to go out with us again to-night,
though not very far off.’

Oliver looked at Sikes, in mute and timid wonder; and drawing
a stool to the fire, sat with his aching head upon his hands,
scarecely knowing where he was, or what was passing around him.

‘Here,’ said Toby, as the young Jew placed some fragments of food,
and a bottle upon the table, ‘Success to the crack!’ He rose to
honour the toast; and, carefully depositing his empty pipe in a
corner, advanced to the table, filled a glass with spirits, and
drank off its contents. Mr. Sikes did the same.

‘A drain for the boy,’ said Toby, half-filling a wine-glass. ‘Down
with it, innocence.’

‘Indeed,’ said Oliver, looking piteously up into the man’s face;
‘indeed, I - ’

‘Down with it!’ echoed Toby. ‘Do you think I don’t know what’s good
for you? Tell him to drink it, Bill.’

‘He had better!’ said Sikes clapping his hand upon his pocket. ‘Burn
my body, if he isn’t more trouble than a whole family of Dodgers.
Drink it, you perwerse imp; drink it!’

Frightened by the menacing gestures of the two men, Oliver hastily
swallowed the contents of the glass, and immediately fell into a
violent fit of coughing: which delighted Toby Crackit and Barney,
and even drew a smile from the surly Mr. Sikes.

This done, and Sikes having satisfied his appetite (Oliver could eat
nothing but a small crust of bread which they made him swallow),
the two men laid themselves down on chairs for a short nap. Oliver
retained his stool by the fire; Barney wrapped in a blanket,
stretched himself on the floor: close outside the fender.

They slept, or appeared to sleep, for some time; nobody stirring but
Barney, who rose once or twice to throw coals on the fire. Oliver
fell into a heavy doze: imagining himself straying along the gloomy
lanes, or wandering about the dark churchyard, or retracing some one
or other of the scenes of the past day: when he was roused by Toby
Crackit jumping up and declaring it was half-past one.

In an instant, the other two were on their legs, and all were
actively engaged in busy preparation. Sikes and his companion
enveloped their necks and chins in large dark shawls, and drew on
their great-coats; Barney, opening a cupboard, brought forth several
articles, which he hastily crammed into the pockets.

‘Barkers for me, Barney,’ said Toby Crackit.

‘Here they are,’ replied Barney, producing a pair of pistols. ‘You
loaded them yourself.’

‘All right!’ replied Toby, stowing them away. ‘The persuaders?’

‘I’ve got ‘em,’ replied Sikes.

‘Crape, keys, centre-bits, darkies - nothing forgotten?’ inquired
Toby: fastening a small crowbar to a loop inside the skirt of his
coat.

‘All right,’ rejoined his companion. ‘Bring them bits of timber,
Barney. That’s the time of day.’

With these words, he took a thick stick from Barney’s hands, who,
having delivered another to Toby, busied himself in fastening on
Oliver’s cape.

‘Now then!’ said Sikes, holding out his hand.

Oliver: who was completely stupified by the unwonted exercise, and
the air, and the drink which had been forced upon him: put his hand
mechanically into that which Sikes extended for the purpose.

‘Take his other hand, Toby,’ said Sikes. ‘Look out, Barney.’

The man went to the door, and returned to announce that all was
quiet. The two robbers issued forth with Oliver between them.
Barney, having made all fast, rolled himself up as before, and was
soon asleep again.

It was now intensely dark. The fog was much heavier than it had
been in the early part of the night; and the atmosphere was so damp,
that, although no rain fell, Oliver’s hair and eyebrows, within
a few minutes after leaving the house, had become stiff with the
half-frozen moisture that was floating about. They crossed the
bridge, and kept on towards the lights which he had seen before.
They were at no great distance off; and, as they walked pretty
briskly, they soon arrived at Chertsey.

‘Slap through the town,’ whispered Sikes; ‘there’ll be nobody in the
way, to-night, to see us.’

Toby acquiesced; and they hurried through the main street of the
little town, which at that late hour was wholly deserted. A dim
light shone at intervals from some bed-room window; and the hoarse
barking of dogs occasionally broke the silence of the night.
But there was nobody abroad. They had cleared the town, as the
church-bell struck two.

Quickening their pace, they turned up a road upon the left hand.
After walking about a quarter of a mile, they stopped before a
detached house surrounded by a wall: to the top of which, Toby
Crackit, scarcely pausing to take breath, climbed in a twinkling.

‘The boy next,’ said Toby. ‘Hoist him up; I’ll catch hold of him.’

Before Oliver had time to look round, Sikes had caught him under
the arms; and in three or four seconds he and Toby were lying on
the grass on the other side. Sikes followed directly. And they stole
cautiously towards the house.

And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief and
terror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were
the objects of the expedition. He clasped his hands together, and
involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. A mist came
before his eyes; the cold sweat stood upon his ashy face; his limbs
failed him; and he sank upon his knees.

‘Get up!’ murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing the
pistol from his pocket; ‘Get up, or I’ll strew your brains upon the
grass.’

‘Oh! for God’s sake let me go!’ cried Oliver; ‘let me run away and
die in the fields. I will never come near London; never, never! Oh!
pray have mercy on me, and do not make me steal. For the love of all
the bright Angels that rest in Heaven, have mercy upon me!’

The man to whom this appeal was made, swore a dreadful oath, and had
cocked the pistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp, placed his
hand upon the boy’s mouth, and dragged him to the house.

‘Hush!’ cried the man; ‘it won’t answer here. Say another word, and
I’ll do your business myself with a crack on the head. That makes no
noise, and is quite as certain, and more genteel. Here, Bill, wrench
the shutter open. He’s game enough now, I’ll engage. I’ve seen older
hands of his age took the same way, for a minute or two, on a cold
night.’

Sikes, invoking terrific imprecations upon Fagin’s head for sending
Oliver on such an errand, plied the crowbar vigorously, but with
little noise. After some delay, and some assistance from Toby, the
shutter to which he had referred, swung open on its hinges.

It was a little lattice window, about five feet and a half above the
ground, at the back of the house: which belonged to a scullery, or
small brewing-place, at the end of the passage. The aperture was so
small, that the inmates had probably not thought it worth while to
defend it more securely; but it was large enough to admit a boy of
Oliver’s size, nevertheless. A very brief exercise of Mr. Sike’s
art, sufficed to overcome the fastening of the lattice; and it soon
stood wide open also.

‘Now listen, you young limb,’ whispered Sikes, drawing a dark
lantern from his pocket, and throwing the glare full on Oliver’s
face; ‘I’m a going to put you through there. Take this light; go
softly up the steps straight afore you, and along the little hall,
to the street door; unfasten it, and let us in.’

‘There’s a bolt at the top, you won’t be able to reach,’ interposed
Toby. ‘Stand upon one of the hall chairs. There are three there,
Bill, with a jolly large blue unicorn and gold pitchfork on ‘em:
which is the old lady’s arms.’

‘Keep quiet, can’t you?’ replied Sikes, with a threatening look.
‘The room-door is open, is it?’

‘Wide,’ replied Toby, after peeping in to satisfy himself. ‘The game
of that is, that they always leave it open with a catch, so that the
dog, who’s got a bed in here, may walk up and down the passage when
he feels wakeful. Ha! ha! Barney ‘ticed him away to-night. So neat!’

Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and
laughed without noise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to be silent,
and to get to work. Toby complied, by first producing his lantern,
and placing it on the ground; then by planting himself firmly with
his head against the wall beneath the window, and his hands upon his
knees, so as to make a step of his back. This was no sooner done,
than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oliver gently through the window
with his feet first; and, without leaving hold of his collar,
planted him safely on the floor inside.

‘Take this lantern,’ said Sikes, looking into the room. ‘You see the
stairs afore you?’

Oliver, more dead than alive, gasped out, ‘Yes.’ Sikes, pointing to
the street-door with the pistol-barrel, briefly advised him to take
notice that he was within shot all the way; and that if he faltered,
he would fall dead that instant.

‘It’s done in a minute,’ said Sikes, in the same low whisper.
‘Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!’

‘What’s that?’ whispered the other man.

They listened intently.

‘Nothing,’ said Sikes, releasing his hold of Oliver. ‘Now!’

In the short time he had had to collect his senses, the boy had
firmly resolved that, whether he died in the attempt or not, he
would make one effort to dart upstairs from the hall, and alarm the
family. Filled with this idea, he advanced at once, but stealthily.

‘Come back!’ suddenly cried Sikes aloud. ‘Back! back!’

Scared by the sudden breaking of the dead stillness of the place,
and by a loud cry which followed it, Oliver let his lantern fall,
and knew not whether to advance or fly.

The cry was repeated - a light appeared - a vision of two terrified
half-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes - a
flash - a loud noise - a smoke - a crash somewhere, but where he knew
not, - and he staggered back.

Sikes had disappeared for an instant; but he was up again, and had
him by the collar before the smoke had cleared away. He fired his
own pistol after the men, who were already retreating; and dragged
the boy up.

‘Clasp your arm tighter,’ said Sikes, as he drew him through the
window. ‘Give me a shawl here. They’ve hit him. Quick! How the boy
bleeds!’

Then came the loud ringing of a bell, mingled with the noise of
fire-arms, and the shouts of men, and the sensation of being carried
over uneven ground at a rapid pace. And then, the noises grew
confused in the distance; and a cold deadly feeling crept over the
boy’s heart; and he saw or heard no more.



CHAPTER XXIII - WHICH CONTAINS THE SUBSTANCE OF A PLEASANT
CONVERSATION BETWEEN MR. BUMBLE AND A LADY; AND SHOWS THAT EVEN A
BEADLE MAY BE SUSCEPTIBLE ON SOME POINTS

The night was bitter cold. The snow lay on the ground, frozen into
a hard thick crust, so that only the heaps that had drifted into
byways and corners were affected by the sharp wind that howled
abroad: which, as if expending increased fury on such prey as it
found, caught it savagely up in clouds, and, whirling it into
a thousand misty eddies, scattered it in air. Bleak, dark, and
piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw
round the bright fire and thank God they were at home; and for the
homeless, starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn
outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets, at such times, who,
let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a
more bitter world.

Such was the aspect of out-of-doors affairs, when Mrs. Corney,
the matron of the workhouse to which our readers have been already
introduced as the birthplace of Oliver Twist, sat herself down
before a cheerful fire in her own little room, and glanced, with no
small degree of complacency, at a small round table: on which stood
a tray of corresponding size, furnished with all necessary materials
for the most grateful meal that matrons enjoy. In fact, Mrs. Corney
was about to solace herself with a cup of tea. As she glanced from
the table to the fireplace, where the smallest of all possible
kettles was singing a small song in a small voice, her inward
satisfaction evidently increased, - so much so, indeed, that Mrs.
Corney smiled.

‘Well!’ said the matron, leaning her elbow on the table, and looking
reflectively at the fire; ‘I’m sure we have all on us a great deal
to be grateful for! A great deal, if we did but know it. Ah!’


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 15 of 25)