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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 16)


'I'll eat my head, sir,' repeated Mr. Grimwig, striking his stickupon the ground. 'Hallo! what's that!' looking at Oliver, andretreating a pace or two.

'This is young Oliver Twist, whom we were speaking about,' saidMr. Brownlow.

Oliver bowed.

'You don't mean to say that's the boy who had the fever, I hope?'said Mr. Grimwig, recoiling a little more. 'Wait a minute! Don't speak! Stop--' continued Mr. Grimwig, abruptly, losing alldread of the fever in his triumph at the discovery; 'that's theboy who had the orange! If that's not the boy, sir, who had theorange, and threw this bit of peel upon the staircase, I'll eatmy head, and his too.'

'No, no, he has not had one,' said Mr. Brownlow, laughing. 'Come! Put down your hat; and speak to my young friend.'

'I feel strongly on this subject, sir,' said the irritable oldgentleman, drawing off his gloves. 'There's always more or lessorange-peel on the pavement in our street; and I KNOW it's putthere by the surgeon's boy at the corner. A young woman stumbledover a bit last night, and fell against my garden-railings;directly she got up I saw her look towards his infernal red lampwith the pantomime-light. "Don't go to him," I called out of thewindow, "he's an assassin! A man-trap!" So he is. If he isnot--' Here the irascible old gentleman gave a great knock onthe ground with his stick; which was always understood, by hisfriends, to imply the customary offer, whenever it was notexpressed in words. Then, still keeping his stick in his hand, hesat down; and, opening a double eye-glass, which he wore attachedto a broad black riband, took a view of Oliver: who, seeing thathe was the object of inspection, coloured, and bowed again.

'That's the boy, is it?' said Mr. Grimwig, at length.

'That's the boy,' replied Mr. Brownlow.

'How are you, boy?' said Mr. Grimwig.

'A great deal better, thank you, sir,' replied Oliver.

Mr Brownlow, seeming to apprehend that his singular friend wasabout to say something disagreeable, asked Oliver to stepdownstairs and tell Mrs. Bedwin they were ready for tea; which,as he did not half like the visitor's manner, he was very happyto do.

'He is a nice-looking boy, is he not?' inquired Mr. Brownlow.

'I don't know,' replied Mr. Grimwig, pettishly.

'Don't know?'

'No. I don't know. I never see any difference in boys. I onlyknew two sort of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys.'

'And which is Oliver?'

'Mealy. I know a friend who has a beef-faced boy; a fine boy,they call him; with a round head, and red cheeks, and glaringeyes; a horrid boy; with a body and limbs that appear to beswelling out of the seams of his blue clothes; with the voice ofa pilot, and the appetite of a wolf. I know him! The wretch!'

'Come,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'these are not the characteristics ofyoung Oliver Twist; so he needn't excite your wrath.'

'They are not,' replied Mr. Grimwig. 'He may have worse.'

Here, Mr. Brownlow coughed impatiently; which appeared to affordMr. Grimwig the most exquisite delight.

'He may have worse, I say,' repeated Mr. Grimwig. 'Where does hecome from! Who is he? What is he? He has had a fever. What ofthat? Fevers are not peculiar to good peope; are they? Badpeople have fevers sometimes; haven't they, eh? I knew a man whowas hung in Jamaica for murdering his master. He had had a feversix times; he wasn't recommended to mercy on that account. Pooh!nonsense!'

Now, the fact was, that in the inmost recesses of his own heart,Mr. Grimwig was strongly disposed to admit that Oliver'sappearance and manner were unusually prepossessing; but he had astrong appetite for contradiction, sharpened on this occasion bythe finding of the orange-peel; and, inwardly determining that noman should dictate to him whether a boy was well-looking or not,he had resolved, from the first, to oppose his friend. When Mr.Brownlow admitted that on no one point of inquiry could he yetreturn a satisfactory answer; and that he had postponed anyinvestigation into Oliver's previous history until he thought theboy was strong enough to hear it; Mr. Grimwig chuckledmaliciously. And he demanded, with a sneer, whether thehousekeeper was in the habit of counting the plate at night;because if she didn't find a table-spoon or two missing somesunshiny morning, why, he would be content to--and so forth.

All this, Mr. Brownlow, although himself somewhat of an impetuousgentleman: knowing his friend's peculiarities, bore with greatgood humour; as Mr. Grimwig, at tea, was graciously pleased toexpress his entire approval of the muffins, matters went on verysmoothly; and Oliver, who made one of the party, began to feelmore at his ease than he had yet done in the fierce oldgentleman's presence.

'And when are you going to hear at full, true, and particularaccount of the life and adventures of Oliver Twist?' askedGrimwig of Mr. Brownlow, at the conclusion of the meal; lookingsideways at Oliver, as he resumed his subject.

'To-morrow morning,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'I would rather hewas alone with me at the time. Come up to me to-morrow morningat ten o'clock, my dear.'

'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver. He answered with some hesitation,because he was confused by Mr. Grimwig's looking so hard at him.

'I'll tell you what,' whispered that gentleman to Mr. Brownlow;'he won't come up to you to-morrow morning. I saw him hesitate. He is deceiving you, my good friend.'

'I'll swear he is not,' replied Mr. Brownlow, warmly.

'If he is not,' said Mr. Grimwig, 'I'll--' and down went thestick.

'I'll answer for that boy's truth with my life!' said Mr.Brownlow, knocking the table.

'And I for his falsehood with my head!' rejoined Mr. Grimwig,knocking the table also.

'We shall see,' said Mr. Brownlow, checking his rising anger.

'We will,' replied Mr. Grimwig, with a provoking smile; 'wewill.'

As fate would have it, Mrs. Bedwin chanced to bring in, at thismoment, a small parcel of books, which Mr. Brownlow had thatmorning purchased of the identical bookstall-keeper, who hasalready figured in this history; having laid them on the table,she prepared to leave the room.

'Stop the boy, Mrs. Bedwin!' said Mr. Brownlow; 'there issomething to go back.'

'He has gone, sir,' replied Mrs. Bedwin.

'Call after him,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'it's particular. He is apoor man, and they are not paid for. There are some books to betaken back, too.'

The street-door was opened. Oliver ran one way; and the girl rananother; and Mrs. Bedwin stood on the step and screamed for theboy; but there was no boy in sight. Oliver and the girlreturned, in a breathless state, to report that there were notidings of him.

'Dear me, I am very sorry for that,' exclaimed Mr. Brownlow; 'Iparticularly wished those books to be returned to-night.'

'Send Oliver with them,' said Mr. Grimwig, with an ironicalsmile; 'he will be sure to deliver them safely, you know.'

'Yes; do let me take them, if you please, sir,' said Oliver.'I'll run all the way, sir.'

The old gentleman was just going to say that Oliver should not goout on any account; when a most malicious cough from Mr. Grimwigdetermined him that he should; and that, by his prompt dischargeof the commission, he should prove to him the injustice of hissuspicions: on this head at least: at once.

'You SHALL go, my dear,' said the old gentleman. 'The books areon a chair by my table. Fetch them down.'

Oliver, delighted to be of use, brought down the books under hisarm in a great bustle; and waited, cap in hand, to hear whatmessage he was to take.

'You are to say,' said Mr. Brownlow, glancing steadily atGrimwig; 'you are to say that you have brought those books back;and that you have come to pay the four pound ten I owe him. Thisis a five-pound note, so you will have to bring me back, tenshillings change.'

'I won't be ten minutes, sir,' said Oliver, eagerly. Havingbuttoned up the bank-note in his jacket pocket, and placed thebooks carefully under his arm, he made a respectful bow, and leftthe room. Mrs. Bedwin followed him to the street-door, givinghim many directions about the nearest way, and the name of thebookseller, and the name of the street: all of which Oliver saidhe clearly understood. Having superadded many injunctions to besure and not take cold, the old lady at length permitted him todepart.

'Bless his sweet face!' said the old lady, looking after him. 'Ican't bear, somehow, to let him go out of my sight.'

At this moment, Oliver looked gaily round, and nodded before heturned the corner. The old lady smilingly returned hissalutation, and, closing the door, went back, to her own room.

'Let me see; he'll be back in twenty minutes, at the longest,'said Mr. Brownlow, pulling out his watch, and placing it on thetable. 'It will be dark by that time.'

'Oh! you really expect him to come back, do you?' inquired Mr.Grimwig.

'Don't you?' asked Mr. Brownlow, smiling.

The spirit of contradiction was strong in Mr. Grimwig's breast,at the moment; and it was rendered stronger by his friend'sconfident smile.

'No,' he said, smiting the table with his fist, 'I do not. Theboy has a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuablebooks under his arm, and a five-pound note in his pocket. He'lljoin his old friends the thieves, and laugh at you. If ever thatboy returns to this house, sir, I'll eat my head.'

With these words he drew his chair closer to the table; and therethe two friends sat, in silent expectation, with the watchbetween them.

It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the importance we attachto our own judgments, and the pride with which we put forth ourmost rash and hasty conclusions, that, although Mr. Grimwig wasnot by any means a bad-hearted man, and though he would have beenunfeignedly sorry to see his respected friend duped and deceived,he really did most earnestly and strongly hope at that moment,that Oliver Twist might not come back.

It grew so dark, that the figures on the dial-plate were scarcelydiscernible; but there the two old gentlemen continued to sit, insilence, with the watch between them.

CHAPTER XV

SHOWING HOW VERY FOND OF OLIVER TWIST, THE MERRY OLD JEW AND MISSNANCY WERE

In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiestpart of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where aflaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where noray of sun ever shone in the summer: there sat, brooding over alittle pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnatedwith the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts,half-boots and stockings, whom even by that dim light noexperienced agent of the police would have hesitated to recogniseas Mr. William Sikes. At his feet, sat a white-coated, red-eyeddog; who occupied himself, alternately, in winking at his masterwith both eyes at the same time; and in licking a large, freshcut on one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result ofsome recent conflict.

'Keep quiet, you warmint! Keep quiet!' said Mr. Sikes, suddenlybreaking silence. Whether his meditations were so intense as tobe disturbed by the dog's winking, or whether his feelings wereso wrought upon by his reflections that they required all therelief derivable from kicking an unoffending animal to allaythem, is matter for argument and consideration. Whatever was thecause, the effect was a kick and a curse, bestowed upon the dogsimultaneously.

Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted uponthem by their masters; but Mr. Sikes's dog, having faults oftemper in common with his owner, and labouring, perhaps, at thismoment, under a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado but atonce fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots. Having given in ahearty shake, he retired, growling, under a form; just escapingthe pewter measure which Mr. Sikes levelled at his head.

'You would, would you?' said Sikes, seizing the poker in onehand, and deliberately opening with the other a largeclasp-knife, which he drew from his pocket. 'Come here, you borndevil! Come here! D'ye hear?'

The dog no doubt heard; because Mr. Sikes spoke in the veryharshest key of a very harsh voice; but, appearing to entertainsome unaccountable objection to having his throat cut, heremained where he was, and growled more fiercely than before: atthe same time grasping the end of the poker between his teeth,and biting at it like a wild beast.

This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; who, droppingon his knees, began to assail the animal most furiously. The dogjumped from right to left, and from left to right; snapping,growling, and barking; the man thrust and swore, and struck andblasphemed; and the struggle was reaching a most critical pointfor one or other; when, the door suddenly opening, the dog dartedout: leaving Bill Sikes with the poker and the clasp-knife inhis hands.

There must always be two parties to a quarrel, says the oldadage. Mr. Sikes, being disappointed of the dog's participation,at once transferred his share in the quarrel to the new comer.

'What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?' saidSikes, with a fierce gesture.

'I didn't know, my dear, I didn't know,' replied Fagin, humbly;for the Jew was the new comer.

'Didn't know, you white-livered thief!' growled Sikes. 'Couldn'tyou hear the noise?'

'Not a sound of it, as I'm a living man, Bill,' replied the Jew.

'Oh no! You hear nothing, you don't,' retorted Sikes with afierce sneer. 'Sneaking in and out, so as nobody hears how youcome or go! I wish you had been the dog, Fagin, half a minuteago.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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