Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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folding her thin hands together, “whether it be boy or girl, raise
up some friends for it in this troubled world, and take pity upon a
lonely desolate child, abandoned to its mercy!”’

‘The boy’s name?’ demanded the matron.

‘They _called_ him Oliver,’ replied the woman, feebly. ‘The gold I
stole was - ’

‘Yes, yes - what?’ cried the other.

She was bending eagerly over the woman to hear her reply; but drew
back, instinctively, as she once again rose, slowly and stiffly,
into a sitting posture; then, clutching the coverlid with both
hands, muttered some indistinct sounds in her throat, and fell
lifeless on the bed.

* * * * *

‘Stone dead!’ said one of the old women, hurrying in as soon as the
door was opened.

‘And nothing to tell, after all,’ rejoined the matron, walking
carelessly away.

The two crones, to all appearance, too busily occupied in the
preparations for their dreadful duties to make any reply, were left
alone, hovering about the body.



CHAPTER XXV - WHEREIN THIS HISTORY REVERTS TO MR. FAGIN AND COMPANY

While these things were passing in the country workhouse, Mr. Fagin
sat in the old den - the same from which Oliver had been removed
by the girl - brooding over a dull, smoky fire. He held a pair
of bellows upon his knee, with which he had apparently been
endeavouring to rouse it into more cheerful action; but he had
fallen into deep thought; and with his arms folded on them, and his
chin resting on his thumbs, fixed his eyes, abstractedly, on the
rusty bars.

At a table behind him sat the Artful Dodger, Master Charles Bates,
and Mr. Chitling: all intent upon a game of whist; the Artful taking
dummy against Master Bates and Mr. Chitling. The countenance of the
first-named gentleman, peculiarly intelligent at all times, acquired
great additional interest from his close observance of the game, and
his attentive perusal of Mr. Chitling’s hand; upon which, from
time to time, as occasion served, he bestowed a variety of earnest
glances: wisely regulating his own play by the result of his
observations upon his neighbour’s cards. It being a cold night, the
Dodger wore his hat, as, indeed, was often his custom within doors.
He also sustained a clay pipe between his teeth, which he only
removed for a brief space when he deemed it necessary to apply for
refreshment to a quart pot upon the table, which stood ready filled
with gin-and-water for the accommodation of the company.

Master Bates was also attentive to the play; but being of a more
excitable nature than his accomplished friend, it was observable
that he more frequently applied himself to the gin-and-water, and
moreover indulged in many jests and irrelevant remarks, all highly
unbecoming a scientific rubber. Indeed, the Artful, presuming upon
their close attachment, more than once took occasion to reason
gravely with his companion upon these improprieties; all of which
remonstrances, Master Bates received in extremely good part; merely
requesting his friend to be ‘blowed,’ or to insert his head in
a sack, or replying with some other neatly-turned witticism of a
similar kind, the happy application of which, excited considerable
admiration in the mind of Mr. Chitling. It was remarkable that
the latter gentleman and his partner invariably lost; and that the
circumstance, so far from angering Master Bates, appeared to afford
him the highest amusement, inasmuch as he laughed most uproariously
at the end of every deal, and protested that he had never seen such
a jolly game in all his born days.

‘That’s two doubles and the rub,’ said Mr. Chitling, with a very
long face, as he drew half-a-crown from his waistcoat-pocket. ‘I
never see such a feller as you, Jack; you win everything. Even when
we’ve good cards, Charley and I can’t make nothing of ‘em.’

Either the master or the manner of this remark, which was made very
ruefully, delighted Charley Bates so much, that his consequent shout
of laughter roused the Jew from his reverie, and induced him to
inquire what was the matter.

‘Matter, Fagin!’ cried Charley. ‘I wish you had watched the play.
Tommy Chitling hasn’t won a point; and I went partners with him
against the Artfull and dumb.’

‘Ay, ay!’ said the Jew, with a grin, which sufficiently demonstrated
that he was at no loss to understand the reason. ‘Try ‘em again,
Tom; try ‘em again.’

‘No more of it for me, thank ‘ee, Fagin,’ replied Mr. Chitling;
‘I’ve had enough. That ‘ere Dodger has such a run of luck that
there’s no standing again’ him.’

‘Ha! ha! my dear,’ replied the Jew, ‘you must get up very early in
the morning, to win against the Dodger.’

‘Morning!’ said Charley Bates; ‘you must put your boots on
over-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass
between your shoulders, if you want to come over him.’

Mr. Dawkins received these handsome compliments with much
philosophy, and offered to cut any gentleman in company, for the
first picture-card, at a shilling at a time. Nobody accepting the
challenge, and his pipe being by this time smoked out, he proceeded
to amuse himself by sketching a ground-plan of Newgate on the table
with the piece of chalk which had served him in lieu of counters;
whistling, meantime, with peculiar shrillness.

‘How precious dull you are, Tommy!’ said the Dodger, stopping short
when there had been a long silence; and addressing Mr. Chitling.
‘What do you think he’s thinking of, Fagin?’

‘How should I know, my dear?’ replied the Jew, looking round as
he plied the bellows. ‘About his losses, maybe; or the little
retirement in the country that he’s just left, eh? Ha! ha! Is that
it, my dear?’

‘Not a bit of it,’ replied the Dodger, stopping the subject of
discourse as Mr. Chitling was about to reply. ‘What do _you_ say,
Charley?’

‘_I_ should say,’ replied Master Bates, with a grin, ‘that he was
uncommon sweet upon Betsy. See how he’s a-blushing! Oh, my eye!
here’s a merry-go-rounder! Tommy Chitling’s in love! Oh, Fagin,
Fagin! what a spree!’

Thoroughly overpowered with the notion of Mr. Chitling being the
victim of the tender passion, Master Bates threw himself back in his
chair with such violence, that he lost his balance, and pitched
over upon the floor; where (the accident abating nothing of his
merriment) he lay at full length until his laugh was over, when he
resumed his former position, and began another laugh.

‘Never mind him, my dear,’ said the Jew, winking at Mr. Dawkins, and
giving Master Bates a reproving tap with the nozzle of the bellows.
‘Betsy’s a fine girl. Stick up to her, Tom. Stick up to her.’

‘What I mean to say, Fagin,’ replied Mr. Chitling, very red in the
face, ‘is, that that isn’t anything to anybody here.’

‘No more it is,’ replied the Jew; ‘Charley will talk. Don’t mind
him, my dear; don’t mind him. Betsy’s a fine girl. Do as she bids
you, Tom, and you will make your fortune.’

‘So I _do_ do as she bids me,’ replied Mr. Chitling; ‘I shouldn’t
have been milled, if it hadn’t been for her advice. But it turned
out a good job for you; didn’t it, Fagin! And what’s six weeks of
it? It must come, some time or another, and why not in the winter
time when you don’t want to go out a-walking so much; eh, Fagin?’

‘Ah, to be sure, my dear,’ replied the Jew.

‘You wouldn’t mind it again, Tom, would you,’ asked the Dodger,
winking upon Charley and the Jew, ‘if Bet was all right?’

‘I mean to say that I shouldn’t,’ replied Tom, angrily. ‘There, now.
Ah! Who’ll say as much as that, I should like to know; eh, Fagin?’

‘Nobody, my dear,’ replied the Jew; ‘not a soul, Tom. I don’t know
one of ‘em that would do it besides you; not one of ‘em, my dear.’

‘I might have got clear off, if I’d split upon her; mightn’t I,
Fagin?’ angrily pursued the poor half-witted dupe. ‘A word from me
would have done it; wouldn’t it, Fagin?’

‘To be sure it would, my dear,’ replied the Jew.

‘But I didn’t blab it; did I, Fagin?’ demanded Tom, pouring question
upon question with great volubility.

‘No, no, to be sure,’ replied the Jew; ‘you were too stout-hearted
for that. A deal too stout, my dear!’

‘Perhaps I was,’ rejoined Tom, looking round; ‘and if I was, what’s
to laugh at, in that; eh, Fagin?’

The Jew, perceiving that Mr. Chitling was considerably roused,
hastened to assure him that nobody was laughing; and to prove the
gravity of the company, appealed to Master Bates, the principal
offender. But, unfortunately, Charley, in opening his mouth to reply
that he was never more serious in his life, was unable to prevent
the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr. Chitling,
without any preliminary ceremonies, rushed across the room and
aimed a blow at the offender; who, being skilful in evading pursuit,
ducked to avoid it, and chose his time so well that it lighted on
the chest of the merry old gentleman, and caused him to stagger
to the wall, where he stood panting for breath, while Mr. Chitling
looked on in intense dismay.

‘Hark!’ cried the Dodger at this moment, ‘I heard the tinkler.’
Catching up the light, he crept softly upstairs.

The bell was rung again, with some impatience, while the party
were in darkness. After a short pause, the Dodger reappeared, and
whispered Fagin mysteriously.

‘What!’ cried the Jew, ‘alone?’

The Dodger nodded in the affirmative, and, shading the flame of the
candle with his hand, gave Charley Bates a private intimation,
in dumb show, that he had better not be funny just then. Having
performed this friendly office, he fixed his eyes on the Jew’s face,
and awaited his directions.

The old man bit his yellow fingers, and meditated for some seconds;
his face working with agitation the while, as if he dreaded
something, and feared to know the worst. At length he raised his
head.

‘Where is he?’ he asked.

The Dodger pointed to the floor above, and made a gesture, as if to
leave the room.

‘Yes,’ said the Jew, answering the mute inquiry; ‘bring him down.
Hush! Quiet, Charley! Gently, Tom! Scarce, scarce!’

This brief direction to Charley Bates, and his recent antagonist,
was softly and immediately obeyed. There was no sound of their
whereabout, when the Dodger descended the stairs, bearing the light
in his hand, and followed by a man in a coarse smock-frock; who,
after casting a hurried glance round the room, pulled off a large
wrapper which had concealed the lower portion of his face, and
disclosed: all haggard, unwashed, and unshorn: the features of flash
Toby Crackit.

‘How are you, Faguey?’ said this worthy, nodding to the Jew. ‘Pop
that shawl away in my castor, Dodger, so that I may know where to
find it when I cut; that’s the time of day! You’ll be a fine young
cracksman afore the old file now.’

With these words he pulled up the smock-frock; and, winding it round
his middle, drew a chair to the fire, and placed his feet upon the
hob.

‘See there, Faguey,’ he said, pointing disconsolately to his top
boots; ‘not a drop of Day and Martin since you know when; not a
bubble of blacking, by Jove! But don’t look at me in that way, man.
All in good time. I can’t talk about business till I’ve eat and
drank; so produce the sustainance, and let’s have a quiet fill-out
for the first time these three days!’

The Jew motioned to the Dodger to place what eatables there were,
upon the table; and, seating himself opposite the housebreaker,
waited his leisure.

To judge from appearances, Toby was by no means in a hurry to open
the conversation. At first, the Jew contented himself with patiently
watching his countenance, as if to gain from its expression some
clue to the intelligence he brought; but in vain.

He looked tired and worn, but there was the same complacent repose
upon his features that they always wore: and through dirt,
and beard, and whisker, there still shone, unimpaired, the
self-satisfied smirk of flash Toby Crackit. Then the Jew, in an
agony of impatience, watched every morsel he put into his mouth;
pacing up and down the room, meanwhile, in irrepressible excitement.
It was all of no use. Toby continued to eat with the utmost outward
indifference, until he could eat no more; then, ordering the Dodger
out, he closed the door, mixed a glass of spirits and water, and
composed himself for talking.

‘First and foremost, Faguey,’ said Toby.

‘Yes, yes!’ interposed the Jew, drawing up his chair.

Mr. Crackit stopped to take a draught of spirits and water, and to
declare that the gin was excellent; then placing his feet against
the low mantelpiece, so as to bring his boots to about the level of
his eye, he quietly resumed.

‘First and foremost, Faguey,’ said the housebreaker, ‘how’s Bill?’

‘What!’ screamed the Jew, starting from his seat.

‘Why, you don’t mean to say - ’ began Toby, turning pale.

‘Mean!’ cried the Jew, stamping furiously on the ground. ‘Where are
they? Sikes and the boy! Where are they? Where have they been? Where
are they hiding? Why have they not been here?’

‘The crack failed,’ said Toby faintly.

‘I know it,’ replied the Jew, tearing a newspaper from his pocket
and pointing to it. ‘What more?’

‘They fired and hit the boy. We cut over the fields at the back,
with him between us - straight as the crow flies - through hedge and
ditch. They gave chase. Damme! the whole country was awake, and the
dogs upon us.’

‘The boy!’

‘Bill had him on his back, and scudded like the wind. We stopped to
take him between us; his head hung down, and he was cold. They
were close upon our heels; every man for himself, and each from the
gallows! We parted company, and left the youngster lying in a ditch.
Alive or dead, that’s all I know about him.’

The Jew stopped to hear no more; but uttering a loud yell, and
twining his hands in his hair, rushed from the room, and from the
house.



CHAPTER XXVI - IN WHICH A MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER APPEARS UPON THE
SCENE; AND MANY THINGS, INSEPARABLE FROM THIS HISTORY, ARE DONE AND
PERFORMED

The old man had gained the street corner, before he began to recover
the effect of Toby Crackit’s intelligence. He had relaxed nothing of
his unusual speed; but was still pressing onward, in the same wild
and disordered manner, when the sudden dashing past of a carriage:
and a boisterous cry from the foot passengers, who saw his danger:
drove him back upon the pavement. Avoiding, as much as was possible,
all the main streets, and skulking only through the by-ways and
alleys, he at length emerged on Snow Hill. Here he walked even
faster than before; nor did he linger until he had again turned
into a court; when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper
element, he fell into his usual shuffling pace, and seemed to
breathe more freely.

Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens,
upon the right hand as you come out of the City, a narrow and dismal
alley, leading to Saffron Hill. In its filthy shops are exposed for
sale huge bunches of second-hand silk handkerchiefs, of all sizes
and patterns; for here reside the traders who purchase them from
pick-pockets. Hundreds of these handkerchiefs hang dangling from
pegs outside the windows or flaunting from the door-posts; and the
shelves, within, are piled with them. Confined as the limits of
Field Lane are, it has its barber, its coffee-shop, its beer-shop,
and its fried-fish warehouse. It is a commercial colony of itself:
the emporium of petty larceny: visited at early morning, and
setting-in of dusk, by silent merchants, who traffic in dark
back-parlours, and who go as strangely as they come. Here, the
clothesman, the shoe-vamper, and the rag-merchant, display their
goods, as sign-boards to the petty thief; here, stores of old iron
and bones, and heaps of mildewy fragments of woollen-stuff and
linen, rust and rot in the grimy cellars.

It was into this place that the Jew turned. He was well known to
the sallow denizens of the lane; for such of them as were on the
look-out to buy or sell, nodded, familiarly, as he passed along. He
replied to their salutations in the same way; but bestowed no closer
recognition until he reached the further end of the alley; when he
stopped, to address a salesman of small stature, who had squeezed as
much of his person into a child’s chair as the chair would hold, and
was smoking a pipe at his warehouse door.

‘Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalmy!’ said
this respectable trader, in acknowledgment of the Jew’s inquiry
after his health.

‘The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,’ said Fagin,
elevating his eyebrows, and crossing his hands upon his shoulders.

‘Well, I’ve heerd that complaint of it, once or twice before,’
replied the trader; ‘but it soon cools down again; don’t you find it
so?’

Fagin nodded in the affirmative. Pointing in the direction of
Saffron Hill, he inquired whether any one was up yonder to-night.

‘At the Cripples?’ inquired the man.

The Jew nodded.

‘Let me see,’ pursued the merchant, reflecting.

‘Yes, there’s some half-dozen of ‘em gone in, that I knows. I don’t
think your friend’s there.’

‘Sikes is not, I suppose?’ inquired the Jew, with a disappointed
countenance.

‘_Non istwentus_, as the lawyers say,’ replied the little man,
shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly. ‘Have you got anything
in my line to-night?’

‘Nothing to-night,’ said the Jew, turning away.

‘Are you going up to the Cripples, Fagin?’ cried the little man,
calling after him. ‘Stop! I don’t mind if I have a drop there with
you!’

But as the Jew, looking back, waved his hand to intimate that he
preferred being alone; and, moreover, as the little man could
not very easily disengage himself from the chair; the sign of the
Cripples was, for a time, bereft of the advantage of Mr. Lively’s
presence. By the time he had got upon his legs, the Jew had
disappeared; so Mr. Lively, after ineffectually standing on tiptoe,
in the hope of catching sight of him, again forced himself into the
little chair, and, exchanging a shake of the head with a lady in
the opposite shop, in which doubt and mistrust were plainly mingled,
resumed his pipe with a grave demeanour.

The Three Cripples, or rather the Cripples; which was the sign by
which the establishment was familiarly known to its patrons: was the
public-house in which Mr. Sikes and his dog have already figured.
Merely making a sign to a man at the bar, Fagin walked straight
upstairs, and opening the door of a room, and softly insinuating
himself into the chamber, looked anxiously about: shading his eyes
with his hand, as if in search of some particular person.

The room was illuminated by two gas-lights; the glare of which was
prevented by the barred shutters, and closely-drawn curtains of
faded red, from being visible outside. The ceiling was blackened, to
prevent its colour from being injured by the flaring of the lamps;
and the place was so full of dense tobacco smoke, that at first it
was scarcely possible to discern anything more. By degrees, however,
as some of it cleared away through the open door, an assemblage of
heads, as confused as the noises that greeted the ear, might be made
out; and as the eye grew more accustomed to the scene, the spectator
gradually became aware of the presence of a numerous company, male
and female, crowded round a long table: at the upper end of
which, sat a chairman with a hammer of office in his hand; while a
professional gentleman with a bluish nose, and his face tied up for
the benefit of a toothache, presided at a jingling piano in a remote
corner.

As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, running over
the keys by way of prelude, occasioned a general cry of order for a
song; which having subsided, a young lady proceeded to entertain
the company with a ballad in four verses, between each of which the
accompanyist played the melody all through, as loud as he could.
When this was over, the chairman gave a sentiment, after which, the
professional gentleman on the chairman’s right and left volunteered
a duet, and sang it, with great applause.

It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominently
from among the group. There was the chairman himself, (the landlord
of the house,) a coarse, rough, heavy built fellow, who, while the
songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither and thither, and,
seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eye for everything
that was done, and an ear for everything that was said - and sharp
ones, too. Near him were the singers: receiving, with professional
indifference, the compliments of the company, and applying
themselves, in turn, to a dozen proffered glasses of spirits
and water, tendered by their more boisterous admirers; whose
countenances, expressive of almost every vice in almost every grade,
irresistibly attracted the attention, by their very repulsiveness.
Cunning, ferocity, and drunkeness in all its stages, were there,
in their strongest aspect; and women: some with the last lingering
tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked: others
with every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out, and
presenting but one loathsome blank of profligacy and crime; some
mere girls, others but young women, and none past the prime of life;
formed the darkest and saddest portion of this dreary picture.

Fagin, troubled by no grave emotions, looked eagerly from face
to face while these proceedings were in progress; but apparently
without meeting that of which he was in search. Succeeding, at
length, in catching the eye of the man who occupied the chair, he
beckoned to him slightly, and left the room, as quietly as he had
entered it.

‘What can I do for you, Mr. Fagin?’ inquired the man, as he followed
him out to the landing. ‘Won’t you join us? They’ll be delighted,
every one of ‘em.’

The Jew shook his head impatiently, and said in a whisper, ‘Is _he_
here?’

‘No,’ replied the man.

‘And no news of Barney?’ inquired Fagin.

‘None,’ replied the landlord of the Cripples; for it was he. ‘He
won’t stir till it’s all safe. Depend on it, they’re on the scent
down there; and that if he moved, he’d blow upon the thing at once.
He’s all right enough, Barney is, else I should have heard of him.
I’ll pound it, that Barney’s managing properly. Let him alone for
that.’

‘Will _he_ be here to-night?’ asked the Jew, laying the same
emphasis on the pronoun as before.

‘Monks, do you mean?’ inquired the landlord, hesitating.

‘Hush!’ said the Jew. ‘Yes.’

‘Certain,’ replied the man, drawing a gold watch from his fob; ‘I
expected him here before now. If you’ll wait ten minutes, he’ll
be - ’

‘No, no,’ said the Jew, hastily; as though, however desirous he
might be to see the person in question, he was nevertheless relieved
by his absence. ‘Tell him I came here to see him; and that he must
come to me to-night. No, say to-morrow. As he is not here, to-morrow
will be time enough.’

‘Good!’ said the man. ‘Nothing more?’

‘Not a word now,’ said the Jew, descending the stairs.

‘I say,’ said the other, looking over the rails, and speaking in a
hoarse whisper; ‘what a time this would be for a sell! I’ve got Phil
Barker here: so drunk, that a boy might take him!’

‘Ah! But it’s not Phil Barker’s time,’ said the Jew, looking up.

‘Phil has something more to do, before we can afford to part with
him; so go back to the company, my dear, and tell them to lead merry
lives - _while they last_. Ha! ha! ha!’

The landlord reciprocated the old man’s laugh; and returned to his
guests. The Jew was no sooner alone, than his countenance resumed
its former expression of anxiety and thought. After a brief
reflection, he called a hack-cabriolet, and bade the man drive
towards Bethnal Green. He dismissed him within some quarter of a
mile of Mr. Sikes’s residence, and performed the short remainder of
the distance, on foot.

‘Now,’ muttered the Jew, as he knocked at the door, ‘if there is any
deep play here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunning as you
are.’

She was in her room, the woman said. Fagin crept softly upstairs,


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 17 of 25)