The old man had gained the street corner, before he began torecover the effect
of Toby Crackit's intelligence. He hadrelaxed nothing of his unusual speed; but
was still pressingonward, in the same wild and disordered manner, when the suddendashing
past of a carriage: and a boisterous cry from the footpassengers, who saw his danger:
drove him back upon thepavement. Avoiding, as much as was possible, all the mainstreets,
and skulking only through the by-ways and alleys, he atlength emerged on Snow Hill.
Here he walked even faster thanbefore; nor did he linger until he had again turned
into a court;when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper element, hefell
into his usual shuffling pace, and seemed to breathe morefreely.
Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens,upon the right
hand as you come out of the City, a narrow anddismal alley, leading to Saffron Hill.
In its filthy shops areexposed for sale huge bunches of second-hand silk handkerchiefs,of
all sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders whopurchase them from pick-pockets.
Hundreds of these handkerchiefshang dangling from pegs outside the windows or flaunting
from thedoor-posts; and the shelves, within, are piled with them. Confined as the
limits of Field Lane are, it has its barber, itscoffee-shop, its beer-shop, and
its fried-fish warehouse. It isa commercial colony of itself: the emporium of petty
larceny:visited at early morning, and setting-in of dusk, by silentmerchants, who
traffic in dark back-parlours, and who go asstrangely as they come. Here, the clothesman,
the shoe-vamper,and the rag-merchant, display their goods, as sign-boards to thepetty
thief; here, stores of old iron and bones, and heaps ofmildewy fragments of woollen-stuff
and linen, rust and rot in thegrimy cellars.
It was into this place that the Jew turned. He was well known tothe sallow denizens
of the lane; for such of them as were on thelook-out to buy or sell, nodded, familiarly,
as he passed along. He replied to their salutations in the same way; but bestowed
nocloser recognition until he reached the further end of the alley;when he stopped,
to address a salesman of small stature, who hadsqueezed as much of his person into
a child's chair as the chairwould hold, and was smoking a pipe at his warehouse
'Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalymy!'said this respectable
trader, in acknowledgment of the Jew'sinquiry after his health.
'The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,' said Fagin,elevating his eyebrows,
and crossing his hands upon hisshoulders.
'Well, I've heerd that complaint of it, once or twice before,'replied the trader;
'but it soon cools down again; don't you findit so?'
Fagin nodded in the affirmative. Pointing in the direction ofSaffron Hill, he
inquired whether any one was up yonder to-night.
'At the Cripples?' inquired the man.
The Jew nodded.
'Let me see,' pursued the merchant, reflecting.
'Yes, there's some half-dozen of 'em gone in, that I knows. Idon't think your
'Sikes is not, I suppose?' inquired the Jew, with a disappointedcountenance.
'Non istwentus, as the lawyers say,' replied the little man,shaking his head,
and looking amazingly sly. 'Have you gotanything in my line to-night?'
'Nothing to-night,' said the Jew, turning away.
'Are you going up to the Cripples, Fagin?' cried the little man,calling after
him. 'Stop! I don't mind if I have a drop therewith you!'
But as the Jew, looking back, waved his hand to intimate that hepreferred being
alone; and, moreover, as the little man could notvery easily disengage himself from
the chair; the sign of theCripples was, for a time, bereft of the advantage of Mr.
Lively'spresence. By the time he had got upon his legs, the Jew haddisappeared;
so Mr. Lively, after ineffectually standing ontiptoe, in the hope of catching sight
of him, again forcedhimself into the little chair, and, exchanging a shake of thehead
with a lady in the opposite shop, in which doubt andmistrust were plainly mingled,
resumed his pipe with a gravedemeanour.
The Three Cripples, or rather the Cripples; which was the sign bywhich the establishment
was familiarly known to its patrons: wasthe public-house in which Mr. Sikes and
his dog have alreadyfigured. Merely making a sign to a man at the bar, Fagin walkedstraight
upstairs, and opening the door of a room, and softlyinsinuating himself into the
chamber, looked anxiously about: shading his eyes with his hand, as if in search
of someparticular person.
The room was illuminated by two gas-lights; the glare of whichwas prevented by
the barred shutters, and closely-drawn curtainsof faded red, from being visible
outside. The ceiling wasblackened, to prevent its colour from being injured by theflaring
of the lamps; and the place was so full of dense tobaccosmoke, that at first it
was scarcely possible to discern anythingmore. By degrees, however, as some of it
cleared away throughthe open door, an assemblage of heads, as confused as the noisesthat
greeted the ear, might be made out; and as the eye grew moreaccustomed to the scene,
the spectator gradually became aware ofthe presence of a numerous company, male
and female, crowdedround a long table: at the upper end of which, sat a chairmanwith
a hammer of office in his hand; while a professionalgentleman with a bluish nose,
and his face tied up for thebenefit of a toothache, presided at a jingling piano
in a remotecorner.
As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, runningover the keys
by way of prelude, occasioned a general cry oforder for a song; which having subsided,
a young lady proceededto entertain the company with a ballad in four verses, betweeneach
of which the accompanyist played the melody all through, asloud as he could. When
this was over, the chairman gave asentiment, after which, the professional gentleman
on thechairman's right and left volunteered a duet, and sang it, withgreat applause.
It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominentlyfrom among the
group. There was the chairman himself, (thelandlord of the house,) a coarse, rough,
heavy built fellow, who,while the songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither
andthither, and, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eyefor everything
that was done, and an ear for everything that wassaid--and sharp ones, too. Near
him were the singers: receiving, with professional indifference, the compliments
of thecompany, and applying themselves, in turn, to a dozen profferedglasses of
spirits and water, tendered by their more boisterousadmirers; whose countenances,
expressive of almost every vice inalmost every grade, irresistibly attracted the
attention, bytheir very repulsiveness. Cunning, ferocity, and drunkeness inall its
stages, were there, in their strongest aspect; and women:
some with the last lingering tinge of their early freshnessalmost fading as you
looked: others with every mark and stamp oftheir sex utterly beaten out, and presenting
but one loathsomeblank of profligacy and crime; some mere girls, others but youngwomen,
and none past the prime of life; formed the darkest andsaddest portion of this dreary
Fagin, troubled by no grave emotions, looked eagerly from face toface while these
proceedings were in progress; but apparentlywithout meeting that of which he was
in search. Succeeding, atlength, in catching the eye of the man who occupied the
chair, hebeckoned to him slightly, and left the room, as quietly as he hadentered
'What can I do for you, Mr. Fagin?' inquired the man, as hefollowed him out to
the landing. 'Won't you join us? They'll bedelighted, every one of 'em.'
The Jew shook his head impatiently, and said in a whisper, 'Is HEhere?'
'No,' replied the man.
'And no news of Barney?' inquired Fagin.
'None,' replied the landlord of the Cripples; for it was he. 'Hewon't stir till
it's all safe. Depend on it, they're on thescent down there; and that if he moved,
he'd blow upon the thingat once. He's all right enough, Barney is, else I should
haveheard of him. I'll pound it, that Barney's managing properly. Let him alone
'Will HE be here to-night?' asked the Jew, laying the sameemphasis on the pronoun
'Monks, do you mean?' inquired the landlord, hesitating.
'Hush!' said the Jew. 'Yes.'
'Certain,' replied the man, drawing a gold watch from his fob; 'Iexpected him
here before now. If you'll wait ten minutes, he'llbe--'
'No, no,' said the Jew, hastily; as though, however desirous hemight be to see
the person in question, he was neverthelessrelieved by his absence. 'Tell him I
came here to see him; andthat he must come to me to-night. No, say to-morrow. As
he isnot here, to-morrow will be time enough.'
'Good!' said the man. 'Nothing more?'
'Not a word now,' said the Jew, descending the stairs.
'I say,' said the other, looking over the rails, and speaking ina hoarse whisper;
'what a time this would be for a sell! I'vegot Phil Barker here: so drunk, that
a boy might take him!'
'Ah! But it's not Phil Barker's time,' said the Jew, looking up.
'Phil has something more to do, before we can afford to part withhim; so go back
to the company, my dear, and tell them to leadmerry lives--WHILE THEY LAST. Ha!
The landlord reciprocated the old man's laugh; and returned tohis guests. The
Jew was no sooner alone, than his countenanceresumed its former expression of anxiety
and thought. After abrief reflection, he called a hack-cabriolet, and bade the mandrive
towards Bethnal Green. He dismissed him within some quarterof a mile of Mr. Sikes's
residence, and performed the shortremainder of the distance, on foot.
'Now,' muttered the Jew, as he knocked at the door, 'if there isany deep play
here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunningas you are.'
She was in her room, the woman said. Fagin crept softlyupstairs, and entered
it without any previous ceremony. The girlwas alone; lying with her head upon the
table, and her hairstraggling over it.
'She has been drinking,' thought the Jew, cooly, 'or perhaps sheis only miserable.'
The old man turned to close the door, as he made this reflection;the noise thus
occasioned, roused the girl. She eyed his craftyface narrowly, as she inquired to
his recital of Toby Crackit'sstory. When it was concluded, she sank into her former
attitude,but spoke not a word. She pushed the candle impatiently away;and once or
twice as she feverishly changed her position,shuffled her feet upon the ground;
but this was all.
During the silence, the Jew looked restlessly about the room, asif to assure
himself that there were no appearances of Sikeshaving covertly returned. Apparently
satisfied with hisinspection, he coughed twice or thrice, and made as many effortsto
open a conversation; but the girl heeded him no more than ifhe had been made of
stone. At length he made another attempt;and rubbing his hands together, said, in
his most concilitorytone,
'And where should you think Bill was now, my dear?'
The girl moaned out some half intelligible reply, that she couldnot tell; and
seemed, from the smothered noise that escaped her,to be crying.
'And the boy, too,' said the Jew, straining his eyes to catch aglimpse of her
face. 'Poor leetle child! Left in a ditch,Nance; only think!'
'The child,' said the girl, suddenly looking up, 'is better wherehe is, than
among us; and if no harm comes to Bill from it, Ihope he lies dead in the ditch
and that his young bones may rotthere.'
'What!' cried the Jew, in amazement.
'Ay, I do,' returned the girl, meeting his gaze. 'I shall beglad to have him
away from my eyes, and to know that the worst isover. I can't bear to have him about
me. The sight of him turnsme against myself, and all of you.'
'Pooh!' said the Jew, scornfully. 'You're drunk.'
'Am I?' cried the girl bitterly. 'It's no fault of yours, if Iam not! You'd never
have me anything else, if you had your will,except now;--the humour doesn't suit
you, doesn't it?'
'No!' rejoined the Jew, furiously. 'It does not.'
'Change it, then!' responded the girl, with a laugh.
'Change it!' exclaimed the Jew, exasperated beyond all bounds byhis companion's
unexpected obstinacy, and the vexation of thenight, 'I WILL change it! Listen to
me, you drab. Listen to me,who with six words, can strangle Sikes as surely as if
I had hisbull's throat between my fingers now. If he comes back, andleaves the boy
behind him; if he gets off free, and dead oralive, fails to restore him to me; murder
him yourself if youwould have him escape Jack Ketch. And do it the moment he setsfoot
in this room, or mind me, it will be too late!'
'What is all this?' cried the girl involuntarily.
'What is it?' pursued Fagin, mad with rage. 'When the boy'sworth hundreds of
pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw mein the way of getting safely, through
the whims of a drunken gangthat I could whistle away the lives of! And me bound,
too, to aborn devil that only wants the will, and has the power to, to--'
Panting for breath, the old man stammered for a word; and in thatinstant checked
the torrent of his wrath, and changed his wholedemeanour. A moment before, his clenched
hands had grasped theair; his eyes had dilated; and his face grown livid with passion;but
now, he shrunk into a chair, and, cowering together, trembledwith the apprehension
of having himself disclosed some hiddenvillainy. After a short silence, he ventured
to look round athis companion. He appeared somewhat reassured, on beholding herin
the same listless attitude from which he had first roused her.
'Nancy, dear!' croaked the Jew, in his usual voice. 'Did youmind me, dear?'