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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 10)


Oliver was precisely in this condition. He saw the Jew with hishalf-closed eyes; heard his low whistling; and recognised thesound of the spoon grating against the saucepan's sides: and yetthe self-same senses were mentally engaged, at the same time, inbusy 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 ifhe did not well know how to employ himself, he turned round andlooked at Oliver, and called him by his name. He did not answer,and was to all appearances asleep.

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

'Aha!' said the Jew, shrugging up his shoulders, and distortingevery 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'thave 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. Atleast half a dozen more were severally drawn forth from the samebox, and surveyed with equal pleasure; besides rings, brooches,bracelet, and other articles of jewellery, of such magnificentmaterials, and costly workmanship, that Oliver had no idea, evenof their names.

Having replaced these trinkets, the Jew took out another: sosmall that it lay in the palm of his hand. There seemed to besome very minute inscription on it; for the Jew laid it flat uponthe table, and shading it with his hand, pored over it, long andearnestly. At length he put it down, as if despairing ofsuccess; 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 finething for the trade! Five of 'em strung up in a row, and noneleft to play booty, or turn white-livered!'

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

He closed the lid of the box with a loud crash; and, laying hishand on a bread knife which was on the table, started furiouslyup. 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 areyou 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 fiercelyon the boy.

'No! No, indeed!' replied Oliver.

'Are you sure?' cried the Jew: with a still fiercer look thanbefore: and a threatening attitude.

'Upon my word I was not, sir,' replied Oliver, earnestly. 'I wasnot, indeed, sir.'

'Tush, tush, my dear!' said the Jew, abruptly resuming his oldmanner, and playing with the knife a little, before he laid itdown; as if to induce the belief that he had caught it up, inmere sport. 'Of course I know that, my dear. I only tried tofrighten you. You're a brave boy. Ha! ha! you're a brave boy,Oliver.' The Jew rubbed his hands with a chuckle, but glanceduneasily 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 oldage. The folks call me a miser, my dear. Only a miser; that'sall.'

Oliver thought the old gentleman must be a decided miser to livein such a dirty place, with so many watches; but, thinking thatperhaps his fondness for the Dodger and the other boys, cost hima 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 instantto raise the pitcher. When he turned his head, the box was gone.

He had scarcely washed himself, and made everything tidy, byemptying the basin out of the window, agreeably to the Jew'sdirections, when the Dodger returned: accompanied by a verysprightly young friend, whom Oliver had seen smoking on theprevious night, and who was now formally introduced to him asCharley Bates. The four sat down, to breakfast, on the coffee,and some hot rolls and ham which the Dodger had brought home inthe crown of his hat.

'Well,' said the Jew, glancing slyly at Oliver, and addressinghimself 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 atthe insides carefully; 'but very neat and nicely made. Ingeniousworkman, ain't he, Oliver?'

'Very indeed, sir,' said Oliver. At which Mr. Charles Bateslaughed uproariously; very much to the amazement of Oliver, whosaw 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 fourpocket-handkerchiefs.

'Well,' said the Jew, inspecting them closely; 'they're very goodones, very. You haven't marked them well, though, Charley; sothe marks shall be picked out with a needle, and we'll teachOliver 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 asCharley 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 thisreply, that he burst into another laugh; which laugh, meeting thecoffee 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 anapology to the company for his unpolite behaviour.

The Dodger said nothing, but he smoothed Oliver's hair over hiseyes, and said he'd know better, by and by; upon which the oldgentleman, observing Oliver's colour mounting, changed thesubject by asking whether there had been much of a crowd at theexecution that morning? This made him wonder more and more; forit was plain from the replies of the two boys that they had bothbeen there; and Oliver naturally wondered how they could possiblyhave found time to be so very industrious.

When the breakfast was cleared away; the merry old gentlman andthe two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, whichwas performed in this way. The merry old gentleman, placing asnuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in theother, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chainround his neck, and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coat tight round him, and putting his spectacle-caseand handkerchief in his pockets, trotted up and down the roomwith a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlmenwalk about the streets any hour in the day. Sometimes he stoppedat the fire-place, and sometimes at the door, making believe thathe was staring with all his might into shop-windows. At suchtimes, he would look constantly round him, for fear of thieves,and would keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to see that hehadn't lost anything, in such a very funny and natural manner,that Oliver laughed till the tears ran down his face. All thistime, the two boys followed him closely about: getting out ofhis sight, so nimbly, every time he turned round, that it wasimpossible to follow their motions. At last, the Dodger trodupon his toes, or ran upon his boot accidently, while CharleyBates stumbled up against him behind; and in that one moment theytook 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 anyone of his pockets, he cried out where it was; and then the gamebegan all over again.

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

The visitors stopped a long time. Spirits were produced, inconsequence of one of the young ladies complaining of a coldnessin her inside; and the conversation took a very convivial andimproving turn. At length, Charley Bates expressed his opinionthat it was time to pad the hoof. This, it occurred to Oliver,must be French for going out; for directly afterwards, theDodger, and Charley, and the two young ladies, went awaytogether, having been kindly furnished by the amiable old Jewwith 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 unexpectedlycome across any, when they are out; and they won't neglect it, ifthey do, my dear, depend upon it. Make 'em your models, my dear.

Make 'em your models,' tapping the fire-shovel on the hearth toadd force to his words; 'do everything they bid you, and taketheir advice in all matters--especially the Dodger's, my dear. He'll be a great man himself, and will make you one too, if youtake pattern by him.--Is my handkerchief hanging out of mypocket, my dear?' said the Jew, stopping short.

'Yes, sir,' said Oliver.

'See if you can take it out, without my feeling it; as you sawthem do, when we were at play this morning.'

Oliver held up the bottom of the pocket with one hand, as he hadseen the Dodger hold it, and drew the handkerchief lighty out ofit 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 sharperlad. 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, andI'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, thinkingthat the Jew, being so much his senior, must know best, hefollowed him quietly to the table, and was soon deeply involvedin his new study.

CHAPTER X

OLIVER BECOMES BETTER ACQUAINTED WITH THE CHARACTERS OF HIS NEWASSOCIATES; AND PURCHASES EXPERIENCE AT A HIGH PRICE. BEING ASHORT, BUT VERY IMPORTANT CHAPTER, IN THIS HISTORY

For many days, Oliver remained in the Jew's room, picking themarks out of the pocket-handkerchief, (of which a great numberwere brought home,) and sometimes taking part in the game alreadydescribed: which the two boys and the Jew played, regularly,every morning. At length, he began to languish for fresh air, andtook many occasions of earnestly entreating the old gentleman toallow him to go out to work with his two companions.

Oliver was rendered the more anxious to be actively employed, bywhat he had seen of the stern morality of the old gentleman'scharacter. Whenever the Dodger or Charley Bates came home atnight, empty-handed, he would expatiate with great vehemence onthe misery of idle and lazy habits; and would enforce upon themthe necessity of an active life, by sending them supperless tobed. On one occasion, indeed, he even went so far as to knockthem both down a flight of stairs; but this was carrying out hisvirtuous precepts to an unusual extent.

At length, one morning, Oliver obtained the permission he had soeagerly sought. There had been no handkerchiefs to work upon,for two or three days, and the dinners had been rather meagre. Perhaps these were reasons for the old gentleman's giving hisassent; but, whether they were or no, he told Oliver he might go,and placed him under the joint guardianship of Charley Bates, andhis friend the Dodger.

The three boys sallied out; the Dodger with his coat-sleevestucked up, and his hat cocked, as usual; Master Bates saunteringalong with his hands in his pockets; and Oliver between them,wondering where they were going, and what branch of manufacturehe would be instructed in, first.

The pace at which they went, was such a very lazy, ill-lookingsaunter, that Oliver soon began to think his companions weregoing to deceive the old gentleman, by not going to work at all. The Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling the capsfrom the heads of small boys and tossing them down areas; whileCharley Bates exhibited some very loose notions concerning therights of property, by pilfering divers apples and onions fromthe stalls at the kennel sides, and thrusting them into pocketswhich were so surprisingly capacious, that they seemed toundermine his whole suit of clothes in every direction. Thesethings looked so bad, that Oliver was on the point of declaringhis intention of seeking his way back, in the best way he could;when his thoughts were suddenly directed into another channel, bya very mysterious change of behaviour on the part of the Dodger.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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