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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 21)


'I am,' replied the Doger. 'I'd scorn to be anything else.' Mr.Dawkins gave his hat a ferocious cock, after delivering thissentiment, and looked at Master Bates, as if to denote that hewould feel obliged by his saying anything to the contrary.

'I am,' repeated the Dodger. 'So's Charley. So's Fagin. So'sSikes. So's Nancy. So's Bet. So we all are, down to the dog. And he's the downiest one of the lot!'

'And the least given to peaching,' added Charley Bates.

'He wouldn't so much as bark in a witness-box, for fear ofcommitting himself; no, not if you tied him up in one, and lefthim there without wittles for a fortnight,' said the Dodger.

'Not a bit of it,' observed Charley.

'He's a rum dog. Don't he look fierce at any strange cove thatlaughs or sings when he's in company!' pursued the Dodger. 'Won't he growl at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! Anddon't he hate other dogs as ain't of his breed! Oh, no!'

'He's an out-and-out Christian,' said Charley.

This was merely intended as a tribute to the animal's abilities,but it was an appropriate remark in another sense, if MasterBates had only known it; for there are a good many ladies andgentlemen, claiming to be out-and-out Christians, between whom,and Mr. Sikes' dog, there exist strong and singular points ofresemblance.

'Well, well,' said the Dodger, recurring to the point from whichthey had strayed: with that mindfulness of his profession whichinfluenced all his proceedings. 'This hasn't go anything to dowith young Green here.'

'No more it has,' said Charley. 'Why don't you put yourselfunder Fagin, Oliver?'

'And make your fortun' out of hand?' added the Dodger, with agrin.

'And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-teel:as I mean to, in the very next leap-year but four that evercomes, and the forty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,' saidCharley Bates.

'I don't like it,' rejoined Oliver, timidly; 'I wish they wouldlet me go. I--I--would rather go.'

'And Fagin would RATHER not!' rejoined Charley.

Oliver knew this too well; but thinking it might be dangerous toexpress his feelings more openly, he only sighed, and went onwith his boot-cleaning.

'Go!' exclaimed the Dodger. 'Why, where's your spirit?' Don'tyou take any pride out of yourself? Would you go and bedependent on your friends?'

'Oh, blow that!' said Master Bates: drawing two or three silkhandkerchiefs from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard,'that's too mean; that is.'

'_I_ couldn't do it,' said the Dodger, with an air of haughtydisgust.

'You can leave your friends, though,' said Oliver with a halfsmile; 'and let them be punished for what you did.'

'That,' rejoined the Dodger, with a wave of his pipe, 'That wasall out of consideration for Fagin, 'cause the traps know that wework together, and he might have got into trouble if we hadn'tmade our lucky; that was the move, wasn't it, Charley?'

Master Bates nodded assent, and would have spoken, but therecollection of Oliver's flight came so suddenly upon him, thatthe smoke he was inhaling got entagled with a laugh, and went upinto his head, and down into his throat: and brought on a fit ofcoughing and stamping, about five minutes long.

'Look here!' said the Dodger, drawing forth a handful ofshillings and halfpence. 'Here's a jolly life! What's the oddswhere it comes from? Here, catch hold; there's plenty more wherethey were took from. You won't, won't you? Oh, you preciousflat!'

'It's naughty, ain't it, Oliver?' inquired Charley Bates. 'He'llcome to be scragged, won't he?'

'I don't know what that means,' replied Oliver.

'Something in this way, old feller,' said Charly. As he said it,Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding iterect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked acurious sound through his teeth; thereby indicating, by a livelypantomimic representation, that scragging and hanging were oneand the same thing.

'That's what it means,' said Charley. 'Look how he stares, Jack!

I never did see such prime company as that 'ere boy; he'll be thedeath of me, I know he will.' Master Charley Bates, havinglaughed heartily again, resumed his pipe with tears in his eyes.

'You've been brought up bad,' said the Dodger, surveying hisboots with much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them.'Fagin will make something of you, though, or you'll be the firsthe ever had that turned out unprofitable. You'd better begin atonce; for you'll come to the trade long before you think of it;and you're only losing time, Oliver.'

Master Bates backed this advice with sundry moral admonitions ofhis own: which, being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkinslaunched into a glowing description of the numerous pleasuresincidental to the life they led, interspersed with a variety ofhints to Oliver that the best thing he could do, would be tosecure Fagin's favour without more delay, by the means which theythemselves had employed to gain it.

'And always put this in your pipe, Nolly,' said the Dodger, asthe Jew was heard unlocking the door above, 'if you don't takefogels and tickers--'

'What's the good of talking in that way?' interposed MasterBates; 'he don't know what you mean.'

'If you don't take pocket-handkechers and watches,' said theDodger, reducing his conversation to the level of Oliver'scapacity, 'some other cove will; so that the coves that lose 'emwill be all the worse, and you'll be all the worse, too, andnobody half a ha'p'orth the better, except the chaps wot getsthem--and you've just as good a right to them as they have.'

'To be sure, to be sure!' said the Jew, who had entered unseen byOliver. 'It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell, takethe Dodger's word for it. Ha! ha! ha! He understands thecatechism of his trade.'

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully together, as hecorroborated the Dodger's reasoning in these terms; and chuckledwith delight at his pupil's proficiency.

The conversation proceeded no farther at this time, for the Jewhad returned home accompanied by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whomOliver had never seen before, but who was accosted by the Dodgeras Tom Chitling; and who, having lingered on the stairs toexchange a few gallantries with the lady, now made hisappearance.

Mr. Chitling was older in years than the Dodger: having perhapsnumbered eighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference inhis deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed toindicate that he felt himself conscious of a slight inferiorityin point of genius and professional aquirements. He had smalltwinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a darkcorduroy jacket, greasy fustian trousers, and an apron. Hiswardrobe was, in truth, rather out of repair; but he excusedhimself to the company by stating that his 'time' was only out anhour before; and that, in consequence of having worn theregimentals for six weeks past, he had not been able to bestowany attention on his private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, withstrong marks of irritation, that the new way of fumigatingclothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional, for it burntholes in them, and there was no remedy against the County. Thesame remark he considered to apply to the regulation mode ofcutting the hair: which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr.Chitling wound up his observations by stating that he had nottouched a drop of anything for forty-two moral long hard-workingdays; and that he 'wished he might be busted if he warn't as dryas a lime-basket.'

'Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver?'inquired the Jew, with a grin, as the other boys put a bottle ofspirits on the table.

'I--I--don't know, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Who's that?' inquired Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous lookat Oliver.

'A young friend of mine, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'He's in luck, then,' said the young man, with a meaning look atFagin. 'Never mind where I came from, young 'un; you'll findyour way there, soon enough, I'll bet a crown!'

At this sally, the boys laughed. After some more jokes on thesame subject, they exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin; andwithdrew.

After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, theydrew their chairs towards the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliverto come and sit by him, led the conversation to the topics mostcalculated to interest his hearers. These were, the greatadvantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, theamiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jewhimself. At length these subjects displayed signs of beingthoroughly exhausted; and Mr. Chitling did the same: for thehouse of correction becomes fatiguing after a week or two. MissBetsy accordingly withdrew; and left the party to their repose.

From this day, Oliver was seldom left alone; but was placed inalmost constant communication with the two boys, who played theold game with the Jew every day: whether for their ownimprovement or Oliver's, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other times theold man would tell them stories of robberies he had committed inhis younger days: mixed up with so much that was droll andcurious, that Oliver could not help laughing heartily, andshowing that he was amused in spite of all his better feelings.

In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils. Havingprepared his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any societyto the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a drearyplace, he was now slowly instilling into his soul the poisonwhich he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue for ever.

CHAPTER XIX

IN WHICH A NOTABLE PLAN IS DISCUSSED AND DETERMINED ON

It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew: buttoning hisgreat-coat tight round his shrivelled body, and pulling thecollar up over his ears so as completely to obscure the lowerpart of his face: emerged from his den. He paused on the stepas the door was locked and chained behind him; and havinglistened while the boys made all secure, and until theirretreating footsteps were no longer audible, slunk down thestreet as quickly as he could.

The house to which Oliver had been conveyed, was in theneighborhood of Whitechapel. The Jew stopped for an instant atthe corner of the street; and, glancing suspiciously round,crossed the road, and struck off in the direction of theSpitalfields.

The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over thestreets; the rain fell sluggishly down, and everything felt coldand clammy to the touch. It seemed just the night when itbefitted such a being as the Jew to be abroad. As he glidedstealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls anddoorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile,engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in search of some rich offal for ameal.

He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow ways,until he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to theleft, he soon became involved in a maze of the mean and dirtystreets which abound in that close and densely-populated quarter.

The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversedto be at all bewildered, either by the darkness of the night, orthe intricacies of the way. He hurried through several alleysand streets, and at length turned into one, lighted only by asingle lamp at the farther end. At the door of a house in thisstreet, he knocked; having exchanged a few muttered words withthe person who opened it, he walked upstairs.

A dog growled as he touched the handle of a room-door; and aman's voice demanded who was there.

'Only me, Bill; only me, my dear,' said the Jew looking in.

'Bring in your body then,' said Sikes. 'Lie down, you stupidbrute! Don't you know the devil when he's got a great-coat on?'

Apparently, the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin'souter garment; for as the Jew unbuttoned it, and threw it overthe back of a chair, he retired to the corner from which he hadrisen: wagging his tail as he went, to show that he was as wellsatisfied as it was in his nature to be.

'Well!' said Sikes.

'Well, my dear,' replied the Jew.--'Ah! Nancy.'

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough ofembarrassment to imply a doubt of its reception; for Mr. Faginand his young friend had not met, since she had interfered inbehalf of Oliver. All doubts upon the subject, if he had any,were speedily removed by the young lady's behaviour. She tookher feet off the fender, pushed back her chair, and bade Fagindraw up his, without saying more about it: for it was a coldnight, and no mistake.

'It is cold, Nancy dear,' said the Jew, as he warmed his skinnyhands over the fire. 'It seems to go right through one,' addedthe old man, touching his side.

'It must be a piercer, if it finds its way through your heart,'said Mr. Sikes. 'Give him something to drink, Nancy. Burn mybody, make haste! It's enough to turn a man ill, to see his leanold carcase shivering in that way, like a ugly ghost just rosefrom the grave.'

Nancy quickly brought a bottle from a cupboard, in which therewere many: which, to judge from the diversity of theirappearance, were filled with several kinds of liquids. Sikespouring out a glass of brandy, bade the Jew drink it off.

'Quite enough, quite, thankye, Bill,' replied the Jew, puttingdown the glass after just setting his lips to it.

'What! You're afraid of our getting the better of you, are you?'inquired Sikes, fixing his eyes on the Jew. 'Ugh!'

With a hoarse grunt of contempt, Mr. Sikes seized the glass, andthrew the remainder of its contents into the ashes: as apreparatory ceremony to filling it again for himself: which hedid at once.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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