Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

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and entered it without any previous ceremony. The girl was alone;
lying with her head upon the table, and her hair straggling over it.

‘She has been drinking,’ thought the Jew, cooly, ‘or perhaps she is
only miserable.’

The old man turned to close the door, as he made this reflection;
the noise thus occasioned, roused the girl. She eyed his crafty face
narrowly, as she inquired to his recital of Toby Crackit’s story.
When it was concluded, she sank into her former attitude, but spoke
not a word. She pushed the candle impatiently away; and once or
twice as she feverishly changed her position, shuffled her feet upon
the ground; but this was all.

During the silence, the Jew looked restlessly about the room, as
if to assure himself that there were no appearances of Sikes having
covertly returned. Apparently satisfied with his inspection,
he coughed twice or thrice, and made as many efforts to open a
conversation; but the girl heeded him no more than if he had been
made of stone. At length he made another attempt; and rubbing his
hands together, said, in his most conciliatory tone, ‘And where
should you think Bill was now, my dear?’

The girl moaned out some half intelligible reply, that she could not
tell; and seemed, from the smothered noise that escaped her, to be
crying.

‘And the boy, too,’ said the Jew, straining his eyes to catch a
glimpse of her face. ‘Poor leetle child! Left in a ditch, Nance;
only think!’

‘The child,’ said the girl, suddenly looking up, ‘is better where he
is, than among us; and if no harm comes to Bill from it, I hope he
lies dead in the ditch and that his young bones may rot there.’

‘What!’ cried the Jew, in amazement.

‘Ay, I do,’ returned the girl, meeting his gaze. ‘I shall be glad
to have him away from my eyes, and to know that the worst is over.
I can’t bear to have him about me. The sight of him turns me against
myself, and all of you.’

‘Pooh!’ said the Jew, scornfully. ‘You’re drunk.’

‘Am I?’ cried the girl bitterly. ‘It’s no fault of yours, if I am
not! You’d never have me anything else, if you had your will, except
now; - the humour doesn’t suit you, doesn’t it?’

‘No!’ rejoined the Jew, furiously. ‘It does not.’

‘Change it, then!’ responded the girl, with a laugh.

‘Change it!’ exclaimed the Jew, exasperated beyond all bounds by his
companion’s unexpected obstinacy, and the vexation of the night, ‘I
_will_ change it! Listen to me, you drab. Listen to me, who with six
words, can strangle Sikes as surely as if I had his bull’s throat
between my fingers now. If he comes back, and leaves the boy behind
him; if he gets off free, and dead or alive, fails to restore him to
me; murder him yourself if you would have him escape Jack Ketch. And
do it the moment he sets foot in this room, or mind me, it will be
too late!’

‘What is all this?’ cried the girl involuntarily.

‘What is it?’ pursued Fagin, mad with rage. ‘When the boy’s worth
hundreds of pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw me in the
way of getting safely, through the whims of a drunken gang that I
could whistle away the lives of! And me bound, too, to a born devil
that only wants the will, and has the power to, to - ’

Panting for breath, the old man stammered for a word; and in that
instant checked the torrent of his wrath, and changed his whole
demeanour. A moment before, his clenched hands had grasped the air;
his eyes had dilated; and his face grown livid with passion; but
now, he shrunk into a chair, and, cowering together, trembled with
the apprehension of having himself disclosed some hidden villainy.
After a short silence, he ventured to look round at his companion.
He appeared somewhat reassured, on beholding her in the same
listless attitude from which he had first roused her.

‘Nancy, dear!’ croaked the Jew, in his usual voice. ‘Did you mind
me, dear?’

‘Don’t worry me now, Fagin!’ replied the girl, raising her head
languidly. ‘If Bill has not done it this time, he will another. He
has done many a good job for you, and will do many more when he can;
and when he can’t he won’t; so no more about that.’

‘Regarding this boy, my dear?’ said the Jew, rubbing the palms of
his hands nervously together.

‘The boy must take his chance with the rest,’ interrupted Nancy,
hastily; ‘and I say again, I hope he is dead, and out of harm’s way,
and out of yours, - that is, if Bill comes to no harm. And if Toby
got clear off, Bill’s pretty sure to be safe; for Bill’s worth two
of Toby any time.’

‘And about what I was saying, my dear?’ observed the Jew, keeping
his glistening eye steadily upon her.

‘Your must say it all over again, if it’s anything you want me
to do,’ rejoined Nancy; ‘and if it is, you had better wait till
to-morrow. You put me up for a minute; but now I’m stupid again.’

Fagin put several other questions: all with the same drift of
ascertaining whether the girl had profited by his unguarded hints;
but, she answered them so readily, and was withal so utterly unmoved
by his searching looks, that his original impression of her being
more than a trifle in liquor, was confirmed. Nancy, indeed, was not
exempt from a failing which was very common among the Jew’s female
pupils; and in which, in their tenderer years, they were rather
encouraged than checked. Her disordered appearance, and a wholesale
perfume of Geneva which pervaded the apartment, afforded strong
confirmatory evidence of the justice of the Jew’s supposition; and
when, after indulging in the temporary display of violence above
described, she subsided, first into dullness, and afterwards into
a compound of feelings: under the influence of which she shed tears
one minute, and in the next gave utterance to various exclamations
of ‘Never say die!’ and divers calculations as to what might be the
amount of the odds so long as a lady or gentleman was happy, Mr.
Fagin, who had had considerable experience of such matters in his
time, saw, with great satisfaction, that she was very far gone
indeed.

Having eased his mind by this discovery; and having accomplished
his twofold object of imparting to the girl what he had, that night,
heard, and of ascertaining, with his own eyes, that Sikes had not
returned, Mr. Fagin again turned his face homeward: leaving his
young friend asleep, with her head upon the table.

It was within an hour of midnight. The weather being dark, and
piercing cold, he had no great temptation to loiter. The sharp wind
that scoured the streets, seemed to have cleared them of passengers,
as of dust and mud, for few people were abroad, and they were to all
appearance hastening fast home. It blew from the right quarter for
the Jew, however, and straight before it he went: trembling, and
shivering, as every fresh gust drove him rudely on his way.

He had reached the corner of his own street, and was already
fumbling in his pocket for the door-key, when a dark figure emerged
from a projecting entrance which lay in deep shadow, and, crossing
the road, glided up to him unperceived.

‘Fagin!’ whispered a voice close to his ear.

‘Ah!’ said the Jew, turning quickly round, ‘is that - ’

‘Yes!’ interrupted the stranger. ‘I have been lingering here these
two hours. Where the devil have you been?’

‘On your business, my dear,’ replied the Jew, glancing uneasily
at his companion, and slackening his pace as he spoke. ‘On your
business all night.’

‘Oh, of course!’ said the stranger, with a sneer. ‘Well; and what’s
come of it?’

‘Nothing good,’ said the Jew.

‘Nothing bad, I hope?’ said the stranger, stopping short, and
turning a startled look on his companion.

The Jew shook his head, and was about to reply, when the stranger,
interrupting him, motioned to the house, before which they had by
this time arrived: remarking, that he had better say what he had got
to say, under cover: for his blood was chilled with standing about
so long, and the wind blew through him.

Fagin looked as if he could have willingly excused himself from
taking home a visitor at that unseasonable hour; and, indeed,
muttered something about having no fire; but his companion repeating
his request in a peremptory manner, he unlocked the door, and
requested him to close it softly, while he got a light.

‘It’s as dark as the grave,’ said the man, groping forward a few
steps. ‘Make haste!’

‘Shut the door,’ whispered Fagin from the end of the passage. As he
spoke, it closed with a loud noise.

‘That wasn’t my doing,’ said the other man, feeling his way. ‘The
wind blew it to, or it shut of its own accord: one or the other.
Look sharp with the light, or I shall knock my brains out against
something in this confounded hole.’

Fagin stealthily descended the kitchen stairs. After a short
absence, he returned with a lighted candle, and the intelligence
that Toby Crackit was asleep in the back room below, and that the
boys were in the front one. Beckoning the man to follow him, he led
the way upstairs.

‘We can say the few words we’ve got to say in here, my dear,’ said
the Jew, throwing open a door on the first floor; ‘and as there are
holes in the shutters, and we never show lights to our neighbours,
we’ll set the candle on the stairs. There!’

With those words, the Jew, stooping down, placed the candle on an
upper flight of stairs, exactly opposite to the room door. This
done, he led the way into the apartment; which was destitute of all
movables save a broken arm-chair, and an old couch or sofa without
covering, which stood behind the door. Upon this piece of furniture,
the stranger sat himself with the air of a weary man; and the Jew,
drawing up the arm-chair opposite, they sat face to face. It was
not quite dark; the door was partially open; and the candle outside,
threw a feeble reflection on the opposite wall.

They conversed for some time in whispers. Though nothing of the
conversation was distinguishable beyond a few disjointed words
here and there, a listener might easily have perceived that Fagin
appeared to be defending himself against some remarks of the
stranger; and that the latter was in a state of considerable
irritation. They might have been talking, thus, for a quarter of an
hour or more, when Monks - by which name the Jew had designated the
strange man several times in the course of their colloquy - said,
raising his voice a little, ‘I tell you again, it was badly planned.
Why not have kept him here among the rest, and made a sneaking,
snivelling pickpocket of him at once?’

‘Only hear him!’ exclaimed the Jew, shrugging his shoulders.

‘Why, do you mean to say you couldn’t have done it, if you had
chosen?’ demanded Monks, sternly. ‘Haven’t you done it, with other
boys, scores of times? If you had had patience for a twelvemonth,
at most, couldn’t you have got him convicted, and sent safely out of
the kingdom; perhaps for life?’

‘Whose turn would that have served, my dear?’ inquired the Jew
humbly.

‘Mine,’ replied Monks.

‘But not mine,’ said the Jew, submissively. ‘He might have become
of use to me. When there are two parties to a bargain, it is only
reasonable that the interests of both should be consulted; is it, my
good friend?’

‘What then?’ demanded Monks.

‘I saw it was not easy to train him to the business,’ replied the
Jew; ‘he was not like other boys in the same circumstances.’

‘Curse him, no!’ muttered the man, ‘or he would have been a thief,
long ago.’

‘I had no hold upon him to make him worse,’ pursued the Jew,
anxiously watching the countenance of his companion. ‘His hand was
not in. I had nothing to frighten him with; which we always must
have in the beginning, or we labour in vain. What could I do? Send
him out with the Dodger and Charley? We had enough of that, at
first, my dear; I trembled for us all.’

‘_That_ was not my doing,’ observed Monks.

‘No, no, my dear!’ renewed the Jew. ‘And I don’t quarrel with it
now; because, if it had never happened, you might never have clapped
eyes on the boy to notice him, and so led to the discovery that it
was him you were looking for. Well! I got him back for you by means
of the girl; and then _she_ begins to favour him.’

‘Throttle the girl!’ said Monks, impatiently.

‘Why, we can’t afford to do that just now, my dear,’ replied the
Jew, smiling; ‘and, besides, that sort of thing is not in our way;
or, one of these days, I might be glad to have it done. I know what
these girls are, Monks, well. As soon as the boy begins to harden,
she’ll care no more for him, than for a block of wood. You want him
made a thief. If he is alive, I can make him one from this time;
and, if - if - ’ said the Jew, drawing nearer to the other, - ‘it’s
not likely, mind, - but if the worst comes to the worst, and he is
dead - ’

‘It’s no fault of mine if he is!’ interposed the other man, with
a look of terror, and clasping the Jew’s arm with trembling hands.
‘Mind that. Fagin! I had no hand in it. Anything but his death, I
told you from the first. I won’t shed blood; it’s always found
out, and haunts a man besides. If they shot him dead, I was not the
cause; do you hear me? Fire this infernal den! What’s that?’

‘What!’ cried the Jew, grasping the coward round the body, with both
arms, as he sprung to his feet. ‘Where?’

‘Yonder! replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall. ‘The shadow!
I saw the shadow of a woman, in a cloak and bonnet, pass along the
wainscot like a breath!’

The Jew released his hold, and they rushed tumultuously from the
room. The candle, wasted by the draught, was standing where it had
been placed. It showed them only the empty staircase, and their
own white faces. They listened intently: a profound silence reigned
throughout the house.

‘It’s your fancy,’ said the Jew, taking up the light and turning to
his companion.

‘I’ll swear I saw it!’ replied Monks, trembling. ‘It was bending
forward when I saw it first; and when I spoke, it darted away.’

The Jew glanced contemptuously at the pale face of his associate,
and, telling him he could follow, if he pleased, ascended the
stairs. They looked into all the rooms; they were cold, bare, and
empty. They descended into the passage, and thence into the cellars
below. The green damp hung upon the low walls; the tracks of the
snail and slug glistened in the light of the candle; but all was
still as death.

‘What do you think now?’ said the Jew, when they had regained the
passage. ‘Besides ourselves, there’s not a creature in the house
except Toby and the boys; and they’re safe enough. See here!’

As a proof of the fact, the Jew drew forth two keys from his pocket;
and explained, that when he first went downstairs, he had locked
them in, to prevent any intrusion on the conference.

This accumulated testimony effectually staggered Mr. Monks. His
protestations had gradually become less and less vehement as they
proceeded in their search without making any discovery; and, now, he
gave vent to several very grim laughs, and confessed it could only
have been his excited imagination. He declined any renewal of the
conversation, however, for that night: suddenly remembering that it
was past one o’clock. And so the amiable couple parted.



CHAPTER XXVII - ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER CHAPTER;
WHICH DESERTED A LADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY

As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep so
mighty a personage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire,
and the skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms, until such
time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve him; and as it would
still less become his station, or his gallantry to involve in the
same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looked with an eye of
tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had whispered sweet
words, which, coming from such a quarter, might well thrill the
bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever degree; the historian whose
pen traces these words - trusting that he knows his place, and that
he entertains a becoming reverence for those upon earth to whom
high and important authority is delegated - hastens to pay them that
respect which their position demands, and to treat them with all
that duteous ceremony which their exalted rank, and (by consequence)
great virtues, imperatively claim at his hands. Towards this end,
indeed, he had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation
touching the divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the
position, that a beadle can do no wrong: which could not fail to
have been both pleasurable and profitable to the right-minded reader
but which he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and space,
to postpone to some more convenient and fitting opportunity; on
the arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that a beadle
properly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle, attached
to a parochial workhouse, and attending in his official capacity the
parochial church: is, in right and virtue of his office, possessed
of all the excellences and best qualities of humanity; and that
to none of those excellences, can mere companies’ beadles, or
court-of-law beadles, or even chapel-of-ease beadles (save the last,
and they in a very lowly and inferior degree), lay the remotest
sustainable claim.

Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed the sugar-tongs,
made a closer inspection of the milk-pot, and ascertained to a
nicety the exact condition of the furniture, down to the very
horse-hair seats of the chairs; and had repeated each process full
half a dozen times; before he began to think that it was time for
Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begets thinking; as there were no
sounds of Mrs. Corney’s approach, it occured to Mr. Bumble that it
would be an innocent and virtuous way of spending the time, if he
were further to allay his curiousity by a cursory glance at the
interior of Mrs. Corney’s chest of drawers.

Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody
was approaching the chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom,
proceeded to make himself acquainted with the contents of the three
long drawers: which, being filled with various garments of good
fashion and texture, carefully preserved between two layers of
old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yield
him exceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at the
right-hand corner drawer (in which was the key), and beholding
therein a small padlocked box, which, being shaken, gave forth a
pleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin, Mr. Bumble returned with
a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his old attitude,
said, with a grave and determined air, ‘I’ll do it!’ He followed up
this remarkable declaration, by shaking his head in a waggish manner
for ten minutes, as though he were remonstrating with himself for
being such a pleasant dog; and then, he took a view of his legs in
profile, with much seeming pleasure and interest.

He was still placidly engaged in this latter survey, when Mrs.
Corney, hurrying into the room, threw herself, in a breathless
state, on a chair by the fireside, and covering her eyes with one
hand, placed the other over her heart, and gasped for breath.

‘Mrs. Corney,’ said Mr. Bumble, stooping over the matron, ‘what
is this, ma’am? Has anything happened, ma’am? Pray answer me: I’m
on - on - ’ Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, could not immediately think of
the word ‘tenterhooks,’ so he said ‘broken bottles.’

‘Oh, Mr. Bumble!’ cried the lady, ‘I have been so dreadfully put
out!’

‘Put out, ma’am!’ exclaimed Mr. Bumble; ‘who has dared to - ? I
know!’ said Mr. Bumble, checking himself, with native majesty, ‘this
is them wicious paupers!’

‘It’s dreadful to think of!’ said the lady, shuddering.

‘Then _don’t_ think of it, ma’am,’ rejoined Mr. Bumble.

‘I can’t help it,’ whimpered the lady.

‘Then take something, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble soothingly. ‘A little
of the wine?’

‘Not for the world!’ replied Mrs. Corney. ‘I couldn’t, - oh! The top
shelf in the right-hand corner - oh!’ Uttering these words, the
good lady pointed, distractedly, to the cupboard, and underwent a
convulsion from internal spasms. Mr. Bumble rushed to the closet;
and, snatching a pint green-glass bottle from the shelf thus
incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with its contents, and held
it to the lady’s lips.

‘I’m better now,’ said Mrs. Corney, falling back, after drinking
half of it.

Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously to the ceiling in thankfulness;
and, bringing them down again to the brim of the cup, lifted it to
his nose.

‘Peppermint,’ exclaimed Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smiling
gently on the beadle as she spoke. ‘Try it! There’s a little - a
little something else in it.’

Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with a doubtful look; smacked his
lips; took another taste; and put the cup down empty.

‘It’s very comforting,’ said Mrs. Corney.

‘Very much so indeed, ma’am,’ said the beadle. As he spoke, he drew
a chair beside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had happened
to distress her.

‘Nothing,’ replied Mrs. Corney. ‘I am a foolish, excitable, weak
creetur.’

‘Not weak, ma’am,’ retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair a little
closer. ‘Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?’

‘We are all weak creeturs,’ said Mrs. Corney, laying down a general
principle.

‘So we are,’ said the beadle.

Nothing was said on either side, for a minute or two afterwards. By
the expiration of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the position
by removing his left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney’s chair, where
it had previously rested, to Mrs. Corney’s apron-string, round which
it gradually became entwined.

‘We are all weak creeturs,’ said Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Corney sighed.

‘Don’t sigh, Mrs. Corney,’ said Mr. Bumble.

‘I can’t help it,’ said Mrs. Corney. And she sighed again.

‘This is a very comfortable room, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble looking
round. ‘Another room, and this, ma’am, would be a complete thing.’

‘It would be too much for one,’ murmured the lady.

‘But not for two, ma’am,’ rejoined Mr. Bumble, in soft accents. ‘Eh,
Mrs. Corney?’

Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when the beadle said this; the beadle
drooped his, to get a view of Mrs. Corney’s face. Mrs. Corney, with
great propriety, turned her head away, and released her hand to get
at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly replaced it in that of
Mr. Bumble.

‘The board allows you coals, don’t they, Mrs. Corney?’ inquired the
beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.

‘And candles,’ replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the pressure.

‘Coals, candles, and house-rent free,’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘Oh, Mrs.
Corney, what an Angel you are!’

The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank into
Mr. Bumble’s arms; and that gentleman in his agitation, imprinted a
passionate kiss upon her chaste nose.

‘Such porochial perfection!’ exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously. ‘You
know that Mr. Stout is worse to-night, my fascinator?’

‘Yes,’ replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.

‘He can’t live a week, the doctor says,’ pursued Mr. Bumble. ‘He is
the master of this establishment; his death will cause a wacancy;
that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a prospect
this opens! What a opportunity for a jining of hearts and
housekeepings!’

Mrs. Corney sobbed.

‘The little word?’ said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful beauty.
‘The one little, little, little word, my blessed Corney?’

‘Ye - ye - yes!’ sighed out the matron.

‘One more,’ pursued the beadle; ‘compose your darling feelings for
only one more. When is it to come off?’

Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length
summoning up courage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble’s neck,
and said, it might be as soon as ever he pleased, and that he was ‘a
irresistible duck.’

Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the
contract was solemnly ratified in another teacupful of the
peppermint mixture; which was rendered the more necessary, by the
flutter and agitation of the lady’s spirits. While it was being


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Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 18 of 25)