Charles Dickens.

Oliver Twist, Illustrated online

. (page 6 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 6 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer, was about
his own age: but one of the queerest looking boys that Oliver
had even seen. He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy
enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he
had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his
age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was
stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall
off every moment - and would have done so, very often, if the wearer
had not had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden
twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a
man’s coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned
the cuffs back, half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the
sleeves: apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into
the pockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he kept them. He
was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as
ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.

‘Hullo, my covey! What’s the row?’ said this strange young gentleman
to Oliver.

‘I am very hungry and tired,’ replied Oliver: the tears standing in
his eyes as he spoke. ‘I have walked a long way. I have been walking
these seven days.’

‘Walking for sivin days!’ said the young gentleman. ‘Oh, I see.
Beak’s order, eh? But,’ he added, noticing Oliver’s look of
surprise, ‘I suppose you don’t know what a beak is, my flash
com-pan-i-on.’

Oliver mildly replied, that he had always heard a bird’s mouth
described by the term in question.

‘My eyes, how green!’ exclaimed the young gentleman. ‘Why, a
beak’s a madgst’rate; and when you walk by a beak’s order, it’s
not straight for’erd, but always agoing up, and niver a coming down
agin. Was you never on the mill?’

‘What mill?’ inquired Oliver.

‘What mill! Why, _the_ mill - the mill as takes up so little room
that it’ll work inside a Stone Jug; and always goes better when the
wind’s low with people, than when it’s high; acos then they can’t
get workmen. But come,’ said the young gentleman; ‘you want grub,
and you shall have it. I’m at low-water-mark myself - only one bob
and a magpie; but, as far as it goes, I’ll fork out and stump. Up
with you on your pins. There! Now then! ‘Morrice!’

Assisting Oliver to rise, the young gentleman took him to an
adjacent chandler’s shop, where he purchased a sufficiency of
ready-dressed ham and a half-quartern loaf, or, as he himself
expressed it, ‘a fourpenny bran!’ the ham being kept clean and
preserved from dust, by the ingenious expedient of making a hole
in the loaf by pulling out a portion of the crumb, and stuffing it
therein. Taking the bread under his arm, the young gentlman turned
into a small public-house, and led the way to a tap-room in the rear
of the premises. Here, a pot of beer was brought in, by direction
of the mysterious youth; and Oliver, falling to, at his new friend’s
bidding, made a long and hearty meal, during the progress of which
the strange boy eyed him from time to time with great attention.

‘Going to London?’ said the strange boy, when Oliver had at length
concluded.

‘Yes.’

‘Got any lodgings?’

‘No.’

‘Money?’

‘No.’

The strange boy whistled; and put his arms into his pockets, as far
as the big coat-sleeves would let them go.

‘Do you live in London?’ inquired Oliver.

‘Yes. I do, when I’m at home,’ replied the boy. ‘I suppose you want
some place to sleep in to-night, don’t you?’

‘I do, indeed,’ answered Oliver. ‘I have not slept under a roof
since I left the country.’

‘Don’t fret your eyelids on that score,’ said the young gentleman.
‘I’ve got to be in London to-night; and I know a ‘spectable old
gentleman as lives there, wot’ll give you lodgings for nothink,
and never ask for the change - that is, if any genelman he knows
interduces you. And don’t he know me? Oh, no! Not in the least! By
no means. Certainly not!’

The young gentleman smiled, as if to intimate that the latter
fragments of discourse were playfully ironical; and finished the
beer as he did so.

This unexpected offer of shelter was too tempting to be resisted;
especially as it was immediately followed up, by the assurance that
the old gentleman referred to, would doubtless provide Oliver with a
comfortable place, without loss of time. This led to a more friendly
and confidential dialogue; from which Oliver discovered that his
friend’s name was Jack Dawkins, and that he was a peculiar pet and
protege of the elderly gentleman before mentioned.

Mr. Dawkin’s appearance did not say a vast deal in favour of the
comforts which his patron’s interest obtained for those whom he took
under his protection; but, as he had a rather flightly and dissolute
mode of conversing, and furthermore avowed that among his intimate
friends he was better known by the sobriquet of ‘The Artful Dodger,’
Oliver concluded that, being of a dissipated and careless turn, the
moral precepts of his benefactor had hitherto been thrown away upon
him. Under this impression, he secretly resolved to cultivate the
good opinion of the old gentleman as quickly as possible; and, if
he found the Dodger incorrigible, as he more than half suspected he
should, to decline the honour of his farther acquaintance.

As John Dawkins objected to their entering London before nightfall,
it was nearly eleven o’clock when they reached the turnpike at
Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St. John’s Road; struck
down the small street which terminates at Sadler’s Wells Theatre;
through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row; down the little court by the
side of the workhouse; across the classic ground which once bore the
name of Hockley-in-the-Hole; thence into Little Saffron Hill; and
so into Saffron Hill the Great: along which the Dodger scudded at a
rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels.

Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keeping sight
of his leader, he could not help bestowing a few hasty glances
on either side of the way, as he passed along. A dirtier or more
wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and
muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours.

There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade
appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night,
were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside.
The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of
the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders
of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards,
which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed
little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively
wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great
ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all
appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.

Oliver was just considering whether he hadn’t better run away, when
they reached the bottom of the hill. His conductor, catching him
by the arm, pushed open the door of a house near Field Lane; and
drawing him into the passage, closed it behind them.

‘Now, then!’ cried a voice from below, in reply to a whistle from
the Dodger.

‘Plummy and slam!’ was the reply.

This seemed to be some watchword or signal that all was right; for
the light of a feeble candle gleamed on the wall at the remote end
of the passage; and a man’s face peeped out, from where a balustrade
of the old kitchen staircase had been broken away.

‘There’s two on you,’ said the man, thrusting the candle farther
out, and shielding his eyes with his hand. ‘Who’s the t’other one?’

‘A new pal,’ replied Jack Dawkins, pulling Oliver forward.

‘Where did he come from?’

‘Greenland. Is Fagin upstairs?’

‘Yes, he’s a sortin’ the wipes. Up with you!’ The candle was drawn
back, and the face disappeared.

Oliver, groping his way with one hand, and having the other firmly
grasped by his companion, ascended with much difficulty the dark
and broken stairs: which his conductor mounted with an ease and
expedition that showed he was well acquainted with them.

He threw open the door of a back-room, and drew Oliver in after him.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age
and dirt. There was a deal table before the fire: upon which were a
candle, stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots,
a loaf and butter, and a plate. In a frying-pan, which was on the
fire, and which was secured to the mantelshelf by a string, some
sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork
in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking
and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.
He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare; and
seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and the
clothes-horse, over which a great number of silk handkerchiefs were
hanging. Several rough beds made of old sacks, were huddled side by
side on the floor. Seated round the table were four or five boys,
none older than the Dodger, smoking long clay pipes, and drinking
spirits with the air of middle-aged men. These all crowded about
their associate as he whispered a few words to the Jew; and
then turned round and grinned at Oliver. So did the Jew himself,
toasting-fork in hand.

‘This is him, Fagin,’ said Jack Dawkins; ‘my friend Oliver Twist.’

The Jew grinned; and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took him
by the hand, and hoped he should have the honour of his intimate
acquaintance. Upon this, the young gentleman with the pipes came
round him, and shook both his hands very hard - especially the one
in which he held his little bundle. One young gentleman was very
anxious to hang up his cap for him; and another was so obliging
as to put his hands in his pockets, in order that, as he was very
tired, he might not have the trouble of emptying them, himself, when
he went to bed. These civilities would probably be extended much
farther, but for a liberal exercise of the Jew’s toasting-fork on
the heads and shoulders of the affectionate youths who offered them.

‘We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very,’ said the Jew. ‘Dodger,
take off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire for Oliver. Ah,
you’re a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, my dear. There are
a good many of ‘em, ain’t there? We’ve just looked ‘em out, ready
for the wash; that’s all, Oliver; that’s all. Ha! ha! ha!’

The latter part of this speech, was hailed by a boisterous shout
from all the hopeful pupils of the merry old gentleman. In the midst
of which they went to supper.

Oliver ate his share, and the Jew then mixed him a glass of hot
gin-and-water: telling him he must drink it off directly, because
another gentleman wanted the tumbler. Oliver did as he was desired.
Immediately afterwards he felt himself gently lifted on to one of
the sacks; and then he sunk into a deep sleep.



CHAPTER IX - CONTAINING FURTHER PARTICULARS CONCERNING THE PLEASANT
OLD GENTLEMAN, AND HIS HOPEFUL PUPILS

It was late next morning when Oliver awoke, from a sound, long
sleep. There was no other person in the room but the old Jew, who
was boiling some coffee in a saucepan for breakfast, and whistling
softly to himself as he stirred it round and round, with an iron
spoon. He would stop every now and then to listen when there was the
least noise below: and when he had satisfied himself, he would go on
whistling and stirring again, as before.

Although Oliver had roused himself from sleep, he was not thoroughly
awake. There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking,
when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and
yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you,
than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your
senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At such time, a mortal
knows just enough of what his mind is doing, to form some glimmering
conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth and
spurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its
corporeal associate.

Oliver was precisely in this condition. He saw the Jew with his
half-closed eyes; heard his low whistling; and recognised the sound
of the spoon grating against the saucepan’s sides: and yet the
self-same senses were mentally engaged, at the same time, in busy
action with almost everybody he had ever known.

When the coffee was done, the Jew drew the saucepan to the hob.
Standing, then in an irresolute attitude for a few minutes, as if he
did not well know how to employ himself, he turned round and looked
at Oliver, and called him by his name. He did not answer, and was to
all appearances asleep.

After satisfying himself upon this head, the Jew stepped gently to
the door: which he fastened. He then drew forth: as it seemed to
Oliver, from some trap in the floor: a small box, which he placed
carefully on the table. His eyes glistened as he raised the lid, and
looked in. Dragging an old chair to the table, he sat down; and took
from it a magnificent gold watch, sparkling with jewels.

‘Aha!’ said the Jew, shrugging up his shoulders, and distorting
every feature with a hideous grin. ‘Clever dogs! Clever dogs!
Staunch to the last! Never told the old parson where they were.
Never poached upon old Fagin! And why should they? It wouldn’t have
loosened the knot, or kept the drop up, a minute longer. No, no, no!
Fine fellows! Fine fellows!’

With these, and other muttered reflections of the like nature, the
Jew once more deposited the watch in its place of safety. At least
half a dozen more were severally drawn forth from the same box, and
surveyed with equal pleasure; besides rings, brooches, bracelets,
and other articles of jewellery, of such magnificent materials, and
costly workmanship, that Oliver had no idea, even of their names.

Having replaced these trinkets, the Jew took out another: so small
that it lay in the palm of his hand. There seemed to be some very
minute inscription on it; for the Jew laid it flat upon the table,
and shading it with his hand, pored over it, long and earnestly.
At length he put it down, as if despairing of success; and, leaning
back in his chair, muttered:

‘What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent;
dead men never bring awkward stories to light. Ah, it’s a fine thing
for the trade! Five of ‘em strung up in a row, and none left to play
booty, or turn white-livered!’

As the Jew uttered these words, his bright dark eyes, which had been
staring vacantly before him, fell on Oliver’s face; the boy’s eyes
were fixed on his in mute curiousity; and although the recognition
was only for an instant - for the briefest space of time that can
possibly be conceived - it was enough to show the old man that he had
been observed.

He closed the lid of the box with a loud crash; and, laying his hand
on a bread knife which was on the table, started furiously up. He
trembled very much though; for, even in his terror, Oliver could see
that the knife quivered in the air.

‘What’s that?’ said the Jew. ‘What do you watch me for? Why are you
awake? What have you seen? Speak out, boy! Quick - quick! for your
life.

‘I wasn’t able to sleep any longer, sir,’ replied Oliver, meekly. ‘I
am very sorry if I have disturbed you, sir.’

‘You were not awake an hour ago?’ said the Jew, scowling fiercely on
the boy.

‘No! No, indeed!’ replied Oliver.

‘Are you sure?’ cried the Jew: with a still fiercer look than
before: and a threatening attitude.

‘Upon my word I was not, sir,’ replied Oliver, earnestly. ‘I was
not, indeed, sir.’

‘Tush, tush, my dear!’ said the Jew, abruptly resuming his old
manner, and playing with the knife a little, before he laid it down;
as if to induce the belief that he had caught it up, in mere sport.
‘Of course I know that, my dear. I only tried to frighten you.
You’re a brave boy. Ha! ha! you’re a brave boy, Oliver.’ The Jew
rubbed his hands with a chuckle, but glanced uneasily at the box,
notwithstanding.

‘Did you see any of these pretty things, my dear?’ said the Jew,
laying his hand upon it after a short pause.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver.

‘Ah!’ said the Jew, turning rather pale. ‘They - they’re mine,
Oliver; my little property. All I have to live upon, in my old age.
The folks call me a miser, my dear. Only a miser; that’s all.’

Oliver thought the old gentleman must be a decided miser to live in
such a dirty place, with so many watches; but, thinking that perhaps
his fondness for the Dodger and the other boys, cost him a good deal
of money, he only cast a deferential look at the Jew, and asked if
he might get up.

‘Certainly, my dear, certainly,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘Stay.
There’s a pitcher of water in the corner by the door. Bring it here;
and I’ll give you a basin to wash in, my dear.’

Oliver got up; walked across the room; and stooped for an instant to
raise the pitcher. When he turned his head, the box was gone.

He had scarcely washed himself, and made everything tidy, by
emptying the basin out of the window, agreeably to the Jew’s
directions, when the Dodger returned: accompanied by a very
sprightly young friend, whom Oliver had seen smoking on the previous
night, and who was now formally introduced to him as Charley Bates.
The four sat down, to breakfast, on the coffee, and some hot rolls
and ham which the Dodger had brought home in the crown of his hat.

‘Well,’ said the Jew, glancing slyly at Oliver, and addressing
himself to the Dodger, ‘I hope you’ve been at work this morning, my
dears?’

‘Hard,’ replied the Dodger.

‘As nails,’ added Charley Bates.

‘Good boys, good boys!’ said the Jew. ‘What have you got, Dodger?’

‘A couple of pocket-books,’ replied that young gentlman.

‘Lined?’ inquired the Jew, with eagerness.

‘Pretty well,’ replied the Dodger, producing two pocket-books; one
green, and the other red.

‘Not so heavy as they might be,’ said the Jew, after looking at
the insides carefully; ‘but very neat and nicely made. Ingenious
workman, ain’t he, Oliver?’

‘Very indeed, sir,’ said Oliver. At which Mr. Charles Bates laughed
uproariously; very much to the amazement of Oliver, who saw nothing
to laugh at, in anything that had passed.

‘And what have you got, my dear?’ said Fagin to Charley Bates.

‘Wipes,’ replied Master Bates; at the same time producing four
pocket-handkerchiefs.

‘Well,’ said the Jew, inspecting them closely; ‘they’re very good
ones, very. You haven’t marked them well, though, Charley; so the
marks shall be picked out with a needle, and we’ll teach Oliver how
to do it. Shall us, Oliver, eh? Ha! ha! ha!’

‘If you please, sir,’ said Oliver.

‘You’d like to be able to make pocket-handkerchiefs as easy as
Charley Bates, wouldn’t you, my dear?’ said the Jew.

‘Very much, indeed, if you’ll teach me, sir,’ replied Oliver.

Master Bates saw something so exquisitely ludicrous in this reply,
that he burst into another laugh; which laugh, meeting the coffee he
was drinking, and carrying it down some wrong channel, very nearly
terminated in his premature suffocation.

‘He is so jolly green!’ said Charley when he recovered, as an
apology to the company for his unpolite behaviour.

The Dodger said nothing, but he smoothed Oliver’s hair over his
eyes, and said he’d know better, by and by; upon which the old
gentleman, observing Oliver’s colour mounting, changed the subject
by asking whether there had been much of a crowd at the execution
that morning? This made him wonder more and more; for it was plain
from the replies of the two boys that they had both been there; and
Oliver naturally wondered how they could possibly have found time to
be so very industrious.

When the breakfast was cleared away; the merry old gentlman and
the two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, which was
performed in this way. The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box
in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in the other, and a watch
in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chain round his neck, and
sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coat tight
round him, and putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in his
pockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of
the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets any hour
in the day. Sometimes he stopped at the fire-place, and sometimes at
the door, making believe that he was staring with all his might into
shop-windows. At such times, he would look constantly round him, for
fear of thieves, and would keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to
see that he hadn’t lost anything, in such a very funny and natural
manner, that Oliver laughed till the tears ran down his face. All
this time, the two boys followed him closely about: getting out
of his sight, so nimbly, every time he turned round, that it was
impossible to follow their motions. At last, the Dodger trod upon
his toes, or ran upon his boot accidently, while Charley Bates
stumbled up against him behind; and in that one moment they
took from him, with the most extraordinary rapidity, snuff-box,
note-case, watch-guard, chain, shirt-pin, pocket-handkerchief, even
the spectacle-case. If the old gentlman felt a hand in any one of
his pockets, he cried out where it was; and then the game began all
over again.

When this game had been played a great many times, a couple of young
ladies called to see the young gentleman; one of whom was named Bet,
and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very
neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and
stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a
great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quite stout and
hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliver
thought them very nice girls indeed. As there is no doubt they were.

The visitors stopped a long time. Spirits were produced, in
consequence of one of the young ladies complaining of a coldness in
her inside; and the conversation took a very convivial and improving
turn. At length, Charley Bates expressed his opinion that it was
time to pad the hoof. This, it occurred to Oliver, must be French
for going out; for directly afterwards, the Dodger, and Charley,
and the two young ladies, went away together, having been kindly
furnished by the amiable old Jew with money to spend.

‘There, my dear,’ said Fagin. ‘That’s a pleasant life, isn’t it?
They have gone out for the day.’

‘Have they done work, sir?’ inquired Oliver.

‘Yes,’ said the Jew; ‘that is, unless they should unexpectedly come
across any, when they are out; and they won’t neglect it, if they
do, my dear, depend upon it. Make ‘em your models, my dear. Make ‘em
your models,’ tapping the fire-shovel on the hearth to add force to
his words; ‘do everything they bid you, and take their advice in
all matters - especially the Dodger’s, my dear. He’ll be a great man
himself, and will make you one too, if you take pattern by him. - Is
my handkerchief hanging out of my pocket, my dear?’ said the Jew,
stopping short.

‘Yes, sir,’ said Oliver.

‘See if you can take it out, without my feeling it; as you saw them
do, when we were at play this morning.’

Oliver held up the bottom of the pocket with one hand, as he had
seen the Dodger hold it, and drew the handkerchief lightly out of it
with the other.

‘Is it gone?’ cried the Jew.

‘Here it is, sir,’ said Oliver, showing it in his hand.

‘You’re a clever boy, my dear,’ said the playful old gentleman,
patting Oliver on the head approvingly. ‘I never saw a sharper lad.
Here’s a shilling for you. If you go on, in this way, you’ll be the
greatest man of the time. And now come here, and I’ll show you how
to take the marks out of the handkerchiefs.’

Oliver wondered what picking the old gentleman’s pocket in play, had
to do with his chances of being a great man. But, thinking that
the Jew, being so much his senior, must know best, he followed him
quietly to the table, and was soon deeply involved in his new study.



Online LibraryCharles DickensOliver Twist, Illustrated → online text (page 6 of 25)