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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 24)


'Yes, I see it is, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Well,' said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist, and putting thebarrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which momentthe boy could not repress a start; 'if you speak a word whenyou're out o' doors with me, except when I speak to you, thatloading will be in your head without notice. So, if you DO makeup your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first.'

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, toincrease its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.

'As near as I know, there isn't anybody as would be asking verypartickler arter you, if you WAS disposed of; so I needn't takethis devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if itwarn't for you own good. D'ye hear me?'

'The short and the long of what you mean,' said Nancy: speakingvery emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if tobespeak his serious attention to her words: 'is, that if you'recrossed by him in this job you have on hand, you'll prevent hisever telling tales afterwards, by shooting him through the head,and will take your chance of swinging for it, as you do for agreat many other things in the way of business, every month ofyour life.'

'That's it!' observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; 'women can alwaysput things in fewest words.-- Except when it's blowing up; andthen they lengthens it out. And now that he's thoroughly up toit, let's have some supper, and get a snooze before starting.'

In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth;disappearing for a few minutes, she presently returned with a potof porter and a dish of sheep's heads: which gave occasion toseveral pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr. Sikes, foundedupon the singular coincidence of 'jemmies' being a can name,common to them, and also to an ingenious implement much used inhis profession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhapsby the immediate prospect of being on active service, was ingreat spirits and good humour; in proof whereof, it may be hereremarked, that he humourously drank all the beer at a draught,and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than four-scoreoaths during the whole progress of the meal.

Supper being ended--it may be easily conceived that Oliver had nogreat appetite for it--Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glassesof spirits and water, and threw himself on the bed; orderingNancy, with many imprecations in case of failure, to call him atfive precisely. Oliver stretched himself in his clothes, bycommand of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; andthe girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rousethem at the appointed time.

For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible thatNancy might seek that opportunity of whispering some furtheradvice; but the girl sat brooding over the fire, without moving,save now and then to trim the light. Weary with watching andanxiety, he at length fell asleep.

When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikeswas thrusting various articles into the pockets of hisgreat-coat, which hung over the back of a chair. Nancy wasbusily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not yet daylight;for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside. A sharp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes; and thesky looked black and cloudy.

'Now, then!' growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; 'half-pastfive! Look sharp, or you'll get no breakfast; for it's late asit is.'

Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken somebreakfast, he replied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by sayingthat he was quite ready.

Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief totie round his throat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to buttonover his shoulders. Thus attired, he gave his hand to therobber, who, merely pausing to show him with a menacing gesturethat he had that same pistol in a side-pocket of his great-coat,clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy,led him away.

Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in thehope of meeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed herold seat in front of the fire, and sat, perfectly motionlessbefore it.

CHAPTER XXI

THE EXPEDITION

It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street; blowingand raining hard; and the clouds looking dull and stormy. Thenight had been very wet: large pools of water had collected inthe road: and the kennels were overflowing. There was a faintglimmering of the coming day in the sky; but it rather aggrevatedthan relieved the gloom of the scene: the sombre light onlyserving to pale that which the street lamps afforded, withoutshedding any warmer or brighter tints upon the wet house-tops,and dreary streets. There appeared to be nobody stirring in thatquarter of the town; the windows of the houses were all closelyshut; and the streets through which they passed, were noiselessand empty.

By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the dayhad fairly begun to break. Many of the lamps were alreadyextinguished; a few country waggons were slowly toiling on,towards London; now and then, a stage-coach, covered with mud,rattled briskly by: the driver bestowing, as he passed, andadmonitory lash upon the heavy waggoner who, by keeping on thewrong side of the road, had endangered his arriving at theoffice, a quarter of a minute after his time. The public-houses,with gas-lights burning inside, were already open. By degrees,other shops began to be unclosed, and a few scattered people weremet with. Then, came straggling groups of labourers going totheir work; then, men and women with fish-baskets on their heads;donkey-carts laden with vegetables; chaise-carts filled withlive-stock or whole carcasses of meat; milk-women with pails; anunbroken concourse of people, trudging out with various suppliesto the eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached the City,the noise and traffic gradually increased; when they threaded thestreets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled into aroar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely tobe, till night came on again, and the busy morning of half theLondon population had begun.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsburysquare, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, intoBarbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; fromwhich latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds thatfilled Oliver Twist with amazement.

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearlyankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetuallyrising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling withthe fog, which seemd to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavilyabove. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as manytemporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, werefilled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were longlines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen,butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabondsof every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; thewhistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing andplunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting andsqueaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, andquarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar ofvoices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding,pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous anddiscordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market;and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figues constantlyrunning to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng;rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quiteconfounded the senses.

Mr. Sikes, dragging Oliver after him, elbowed his way through thethickest of the crowd, and bestowed very little attention on thenumerous sights and sounds, which so astonished the boy. Henodded, twice or thrice, to a passing friend; and, resisting asmany invitations to take a morning dram, pressed steadily onward,until they were clear of the turmoil, and had made their waythrough Hosier Lane into Holborn.

'Now, young 'un!' said Sikes, looking up at the clock of St.Andrew's Church, 'hard upon seven! you must step out. Come,don't lag behind already, Lazy-legs!'

Mr. Sikes accompanied this speech with a jerk at his littlecompanion's wrist; Oliver, quickening his pace into a kind oftrot between a fast walk and a run, kept up with the rapidstrides of the house-breaker as well as he could.

They held their course at this rate, until they had passed HydePark corner, and were on their way to Kensington: when Sikesrelaxed his pace, until an empty cart which was at some littledistance behind, came up. Seeing 'Hounslow' written on it, heasked the driver with as much civility as he could assume, if hewould give them a lift as far as Isleworth.

'Jump up,' said the man. 'Is that your boy?'

'Yes; he's my boy,' replied Sikes, looking hard at Oliver, andputting his hand abstractedly into the pocket where the pistolwas.

'Your father walks rather too quick for you, don't he, my man?'inquired the driver: seeing that Oliver was out of breath.

'Not a bit of it,' replied Sikes, interposing. 'He's used to it.

Here, take hold of my hand, Ned. In with you!'

Thus addressing Oliver, he helped him into the cart; and thedriver, pointing to a heap of sacks, told him to lie down there,and rest himself.

As they passed the different mile-stones, Oliver wondered, moreand more, where his companion meant to take him. Kensington,Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentford, were all passed;and yet they went on as steadily as if they had only just beguntheir journey. At length, they came to a public-house called theCoach and Horses; a little way beyond which, another roadappeared to run off. And here, the cart stopped.

Sikes dismounted with great precipitation, holding Oliver by thehand all the while; and lifting him down directly, bestowed afurious look upon him, and rapped the side-pocket with his fist,in a significant manner.

'Good-bye, boy,' said the man.

'He's sulky,' replied Sikes, giving him a shake; 'he's sulky. Ayoung dog! Don't mind him.'

'Not I!' rejoined the other, getting into his cart. 'It's a fineday, after all.' And he drove away.

Sikes waited until he had fairly gone; and then, telling Oliverhe might look about him if he wanted, once again led him onwardon his journey.

They turned round to the left, a short way past the public-house;and then, taking a right-hand road, walked on for a long time:passing many large gardens and gentlemen's houses on both sidesof the way, and stopping for nothing but a little beer, untilthey reached a town. Here against the wall of a house, Oliversaw written up in pretty large letters, 'Hampton.' They lingeredabout, in the fields, for some hours. At length they came backinto the town; and, turning into an old public-house with adefaced sign-board, ordered some dinner by the kitchen fire.

The kitchen was an old, low-roofed room; with a great beam acrossthe middle of the ceiling, and benches, with high backs to them,by the fire; on which were seated several rough men insmock-frocks, drinking and smoking. They took no notice ofOliver; and very little of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very littlenotice of the, he and his young comrade sat in a corner bythemselves, without being much troubled by their company.

They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat so long after it,while Mr. Sikes indulged himself with three or four pipes, thatOliver began to feel quite certain they were not going anyfurther. Being much tired with the walk, and getting up soearly, he dozed a little at first; then, quite overpowered byfatigue and the fumes of the tobacco, fell asleep.

It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes.Rousing himself sufficiently to sit up and look about him, hefound that worthy in close fellowship and communication with alabouring man, over a pint of ale.

'So, you're going on to Lower Halliford, are you?' inquiredSikes.

'Yes, I am,' replied the man, who seemed a little the worse--orbetter, as the case might be--for drinking; 'and not slow aboutit neither. My horse hasn't got a load behind him going back, ashe had coming up in the mornin'; and he won't be long a-doing ofit. Here's luck to him. Ecod! he's a good 'un!'

'Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there?' demandedSikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.

'If you're going directly, I can,' replied the man, looking outof the pot. 'Are you going to Halliford?'

'Going on to Shepperton,' replied Sikes.

'I'm your man, as far as I go,' replied the other. 'Is all paid,Becky?'

'Yes, the other gentleman's paid,' replied the girl.

'I say!' said the man, with tipsy gravity; 'that won't do, youknow.'

'Why not?' rejoined Sikes. 'You're a-going to accommodate us,and wot's to prevent my standing treat for a pint or so, inreturn?'

The stranger reflected upon this argument, with a very profoundface; having done so, he seized Sikes by the hand: and declaredhe was a real good fellow. To which Mr. Sikes replied, he wasjoking; as, if he had been sober, there would have been strongreason to suppose he was.

After the exchange of a few more compliments, they bade thecompany good-night, and went out; the girl gathering up the potsand glasses as they did so, and lounging out to the door, withher hands full, to see the party start.

The horse, whose health had been drunk in his absence, wasstanding outside: ready harnessed to the cart. Oliver and Sikesgot in without any further ceremony; and the man to whom hebelonged, having lingered for a minute or two 'to bear him up,'and to defy the hostler and the world to produce his equal,mounted also. Then, the hostler was told to give the horse hishead; and, his head being given him, he made a very unpleasantuse of it: tossing it into the air with great disdain, andrunning into the parlour windows over the way; after performingthose feats, and supporting himself for a short time on hishind-legs, he started off at great speed, and rattled out of thetown right gallantly.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 88283 times

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