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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 22)


The Jew glanced round the room, as his companion tossed down thesecond glassful; not in curiousity, for he had seen it oftenbefore; but in a restless and suspicious manner habitual to him. It was a meanly furnished apartment, with nothing but thecontents of the closet to induce the belief that its occupier wasanything but a working man; and with no more suspicious articlesdisplayed to view than two or three heavy bludgeons which stoodin a corner, and a 'life-preserver' that hung over thechimney-piece.

'There,' said Sikes, smacking his lips. 'Now I'm ready.'

'For business?' inquired the Jew.

'For business,' replied Sikes; 'so say what you've got to say.'

'About the crib at Chertsey, Bill?' said the Jew, drawing hischair forward, and speaking in a very low voice.

'Yes. Wot about it?' inquired Sikes.

'Ah! you know what I mean, my dear,' said the Jew. 'He knowswhat I mean, Nancy; don't he?'

'No, he don't,' sneered Mr. Sikes. 'Or he won't, and that's thesame thing. Speak out, and call things by their right names;don't sit there, winking and blinking, and talking to me inhints, as if you warn't the very first that thought about therobbery. Wot d'ye mean?'

'Hush, Bill, hush!' said the Jew, who had in vain attempted tostop this burst of indignation; 'somebody will hear us, my dear. Somebody will hear us.'

'Let 'em hear!' said Sikes; 'I don't care.' But as Mr. Sikes DIDcare, on reflection, he dropped his voice as he said the words,and grew calmer.

'There, there,' said the Jew, coaxingly. 'It was only mycaution, nothing more. Now, my dear, about that crib atChertsey; when is it to be done, Bill, eh? When is it to bedone? Such plate, my dear, such plate!' said the Jew: rubbinghis hands, and elevating his eyebrows in a rapture ofanticipation.

'Not at all,' replied Sikes coldly.

'Not to be done at all!' echoed the Jew, leaning back in hischair.

'No, not at all,' rejoined Sikes. 'At least it can't be a put-upjob, as we expected.'

'Then it hasn't been properly gone about,' said the Jew, turningpale with anger. 'Don't tell me!'

'But I will tell you,' retorted Sikes. 'Who are you that's notto be told? I tell you that Toby Crackit has been hanging aboutthe place for a fortnight, and he can't get one of the servantsin line.'

'Do you mean to tell me, Bill,' said the Jew: softening as theother grew heated: 'that neither of the two men in the house canbe got over?'

'Yes, I do mean to tell you so,' replied Sikes. 'The old ladyhas had 'em these twenty years; and if you were to give 'em fivehundred pound, they wouldn't be in it.'

'But do you mean to say, my dear,' remonstrated the Jew, 'thatthe women can't be got over?'

'Not a bit of it,' replied Sikes.

'Not by flash Toby Crackit?' said the Jew incredulously. 'Thinkwhat women are, Bill,'

'No; not even by flash Toby Crackit,' replied Sikes. 'He sayshe's worn sham whiskers, and a canary waistcoat, the wholeblessed time he's been loitering down there, and it's all of nouse.'

'He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers,my dear,' said the Jew.

'So he did,' rejoined Sikes, 'and they warn't of no more use thanthe other plant.'

The Jew looked blank at this information. After ruminating forsome minutes with his chin sunk on his breast, he raised his headand said, with a deep sigh, that if flash Toby Crackit reportedaright, he feared the game was up.

'And yet,' said the old man, dropping his hands on his knees,'it's a sad thing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set ourhearts upon it.'

'So it is,' said Mr. Sikes. 'Worse luck!'

A long silence ensued; during which the Jew was plunged in deepthought, with his face wrinkled into an expression of villainyperfectly demoniacal. Sikes eyed him furtively from time totime. Nancy, apparently fearful of irritating the housebreaker,sat with her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had been deaf toall that passed.

'Fagin,' said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness thatprevailed; 'is it worth fifty shiners extra, if it's safely donefrom the outside?'

'Yes,' said the Jew, as suddenly rousing himself.

'Is it a bargain?' inquired Sikes.

'Yes, my dear, yes,' rejoined the Jew; his eyes glistening, andevery muscle in his face working, with the excitement that theinquiry had awakened.

'Then,' said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew's hand, with somedisdain, 'let it come off as soon as you like. Toby and me wereover the garden-wall the night afore last, sounding the panels ofthe door and shutters. The crib's barred up at night like ajail; but there's one part we can crack, safe and softly.'

'Which is that, Bill?' asked the Jew eagerly.

'Why,' whispered Sikes, 'as you cross the lawn--'

'Yes?' said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyesalmost starting out of it.

'Umph!' cried Sikes, stopping short, as the girl, scarcely movingher head, looked suddenly round, and pointed for an instant tothe Jew's face. 'Never mind which part it is. You can't do itwithout me, I know; but it's best to be on the safe side when onedeals with you.'

'As you like, my dear, as you like' replied the Jew. 'Is thereno help wanted, but yours and Toby's?'

'None,' said Sikes. 'Cept a centre-bit and a boy. The firstwe've both got; the second you must find us.'

'A boy!' exclaimed the Jew. 'Oh! then it's a panel, eh?'

'Never mind wot it is!' replied Sikes. 'I want a boy, and hemusn't be a big 'un. Lord!' said Mr. Sikes, reflectively, 'ifI'd only got that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper's! Hekept him small on purpose, and let him out by the job. But thefather gets lagged; and then the Juvenile Delinquent Societycomes, and takes the boy away from a trade where he was arningmoney, teaches him to read and write, and in time makes a'prentice of him. And so they go on,' said Mr. Sikes, his wrathrising with the recollection of his wrongs, 'so they go on; and,if they'd got money enough (which it's a Providence theyhaven't,) we shouldn't have half a dozen boys left in the wholetrade, in a year or two.'

'No more we should,' acquiesed the Jew, who had been consideringduring this speech, and had only caught the last sentence. 'Bill!'

'What now?' inquired Sikes.

The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing atthe fire; and intimated, by a sign, that he would have her toldto leave the room. Sikes shrugged his shoulders impatiently, asif he thought the precaution unnecessary; but complied,nevertheless, by requesting Miss Nancy to fetch him a jug ofbeer.

'You don't want any beer,' said Nancy, folding her arms, andretaining her seat very composedly.

'I tell you I do!' replied Sikes.

'Nonsense,' rejoined the girl coolly, 'Go on, Fagin. I know whathe's going to say, Bill; he needn't mind me.'

The Jew still hesitated. Sikes looked from one to the other insome surprise.

'Why, you don't mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?' he asked atlength. 'You've known her long enough to trust her, or theDevil's in it. She ain't one to blab. Are you Nancy?'

'_I_ should think not!' replied the young lady: drawing herchair up to the table, and putting her elbows upon it.

'No, no, my dear, I know you're not,' said the Jew; 'but--' andagain the old man paused.

'But wot?' inquired Sikes.

'I didn't know whether she mightn't p'r'aps be out of sorts, youknow, my dear, as she was the other night,' replied the Jew.

At this confession, Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh; and,swallowing a glass of brandy, shook her head with an air ofdefiance, and burst into sundry exclamations of 'Keep the gamea-going!' 'Never say die!' and the like. These seemed to havethe effect of re-assuring both gentlemen; for the Jew nodded hishead with a satisfied air, and resumed his seat: as did Mr. Sikeslikewise.

'Now, Fagin,' said Nancy with a laugh. 'Tell Bill at once, aboutOliver!'

'Ha! you're a clever one, my dear: the sharpest girl I ever saw!'said the Jew, patting her on the neck. 'It WAS about Oliver Iwas going to speak, sure enough. Ha! ha! ha!'

'What about him?' demanded Sikes.

'He's the boy for you, my dear,' replied the Jew in a hoarsewhisper; laying his finger on the side of his nose, and grinningfrightfully.

'He!' exclaimed. Sikes.

'Have him, Bill!' said Nancy. 'I would, if I was in your place. He mayn't be so much up, as any of the others; but that's notwhat you want, if he's only to open a door for you. Depend uponit he's a safe one, Bill.'

'I know he is,' rejoined Fagin. 'He's been in good trainingthese last few weeks, and it's time he began to work for hisbread. Besides, the others are all too big.'

'Well, he is just the size I want,' said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.

'And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear,' interposed theJew; 'he can't help himself. That is, if you frighten himenough.'

'Frighten him!' echoed Sikes. 'It'll be no sham frightening,mind you. If there's anything queer about him when we once getinto the work; in for a penny, in for a pound. You won't see himalive again, Fagin. Think of that, before you send him. Mark mywords!' said the robber, poising a crowbar, which he had drawnfrom under the bedstead.

'I've thought of it all,' said the Jew with energy. 'I've--I'vehad my eye upon him, my dears, close--close. Once let him feelthat he is one of us; once fill his mind with the idea that hehas been a thief; and he's ours! Ours for his life. Oho! Itcouldn't have come about better! The old man crossed his armsupon his breast; and, drawing his head and shoulders into a heap,literally hugged himself for joy.

'Ours!' said Sikes. 'Yours, you mean.'

'Perhaps I do, my dear,' said the Jew, with a shrill chuckle.'Mine, if you like, Bill.'

'And wot,' said Sikes, scowling fiercely on his agreeable friend,'wot makes you take so much pains about one chalk-faced kid, whenyou know there are fifty boys snoozing about Common Garden everynight, as you might pick and choose from?'

'Because they're of no use to me, my dear,' replied the Jew, withsome confusion, 'not worth the taking. Their looks convict 'emwhen they get into trouble, and I lose 'em all. With this boy,properly managed, my dears, I could do what I couldn't withtwenty of them. Besides,' said the Jew, recovering hisself-possession, 'he has us now if he could only give us leg-bailagain; and he must be in the same boat with us. Never mind howhe came there; it's quite enough for my power over him that hewas in a robbery; that's all I want. Now, how much better thisis, than being obliged to put the poor leetle boy out of theway--which would be dangerous, and we should lose by it besides.'

'When is it to be done?' asked Nancy, stopping some turbulentexclamation on the part of Mr. Sikes, expressive of the disgustwith which he received Fagin's affectation of humanity.

'Ah, to be sure,' said the Jew; 'when is it to be done, Bill?'

'I planned with Toby, the night arter to-morrow,' rejoined Sikesin a surly voice, 'if he heerd nothing from me to the contrairy.'

'Good,' said the Jew; 'there's no moon.'

'No,' rejoined Sikes.

'It's all arranged about bringing off the swag, is it?' asked theJew.

Sikes nodded.

'And about--'

'Oh, ah, it's all planned,' rejoined Sikes, interrupting him.'Never mind particulars. You'd better bring the boy hereto-morrow night. I shall get off the stone an hour arterdaybreak. Then you hold your tongue, and keep the melting-potready, and that's all you'll have to do.'

After some discussion, in which all three took an active part, itwas decided that Nancy should repair to the Jew's next eveningwhen the night had set in, and bring Oliver away with her; Fagincraftily observing, that, if he evinced any disinclination to thetask, he would be more willing to accompany the girl who had sorecently interfered in his behalf, than anybody else. It wasalso solemnly arranged that poor Oliver should, for the purposesof the contemplated expedition, be unreservedly consigned to thecare and custody of Mr. William Sikes; and further, that the saidSikes should deal with him as he thought fit; and should not beheld responsible by the Jew for any mischance or evil that mightbe necessary to visit him: it being understood that, to renderthe compact in this respect binding, any representations made byMr. Sikes on his return should be required to be confirmed andcorroborated, in all important particulars, by the testimony offlash Toby Crackit.

These preliminaries adjusted, Mr. Sikes proceeded to drink brandyat a furious rate, and to flourish the crowbar in an alarmingmanner; yelling forth, at the same time, most unmusical snatchesof song, mingled with wild execrations. At length, in a fit ofprofessional enthusiasm, he insisted upon producing his box ofhousebreaking tools: which he had no sooner stumbled in with,and opened for the purpose of explaining the nature andproperties of the various implements it contained, and thepeculiar beauties of their construction, than he fell over thebox upon the floor, and went to sleep where he fell.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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