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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 30)


'Don't worry me now, Fagin!' replied the girl, raising her headlanguidly. 'If Bill has not done it this time, he will another. He has done many a good job for you, and will do many more whenhe can; and when he can't he won't; so no more about that.'

'Regarding this boy, my dear?' said the Jew, rubbing the palms ofhis hands nervously together.

'The boy must take his chance with the rest,' interrupted Nancy,hastily; 'and I say again, I hope he is dead, and out of harm'sway, and out of yours,--that is, if Bill comes to no harm. Andif Toby got clear off, Bill's pretty sure to be safe; for Bill'sworth two of Toby any time.'

'And about what I was saying, my dear?' observed the Jew, keepinghis glistening eye steadily upon her.

'Your must say it all over again, if it's anything you want me todo,' rejoined Nancy; 'and if it is, you had better wait tillto-morrow. You put me up for a minute; but now I'm stupidagain.'

Fagin put several other questions: all with the same drift ofascertaining whether the girl had profited by his unguardedhints; but, she answered them so readily, and was withal soutterly unmoved by his searching looks, that his originalimpression of her being more than a trifle in liquor, wasconfirmed. Nancy, indeed, was not exempt from a failing whichwas very common among the Jew's female pupils; and in which, intheir tenderer years, they were rather encouraged than checked. Her disordered appearance, and a wholesale perfume of Genevawhich pervaded the apartment, afforded stong confirmatoryevidence of the justice of the Jew's supposition; and when, afterindulging in the temporary display of violence above described,she subsided, first into dullness, and afterwards into a compoundof feelings: under the influence of which she shed tears oneminute, and in the next gave utterance to various exclamations of'Never say die!' and divers calculations as to what might be theamount of the odds so long as a lady or gentleman was happy, Mr.Fagin, who had had considerable experience of such matters in histime, saw, with great satisfaction, that she was very far goneindeed.

Having eased his mind by this discovery; and having accomplishedhis twofold object of imparting to the girl what he had, thatnight, heard, and of ascertaining, with his own eyes, that Sikeshad not returned, Mr. Fagin again turned his face homeward:leaving his young friend asleep, with her head upon the table.

It was within an hour of midnight. The weather being dark, andpiercing cold, he had no great temptation to loiter. The sharpwind that scoured the streets, seemed to have cleared them ofpassengers, as of dust and mud, for few people were abroad, andthey were to all appearance hastening fast home. It blew from theright quarter for the Jew, however, and straight before it hewent: trembling, and shivering, as every fresh gust drove himrudely on his way.

He had reached the corner of his own street, and was alreadyfumbling in his pocket for the door-key, when a dark figureemerged from a projecting entrance which lay in deep shadow, and,crossing the road, glided up to him unperceived.

'Fagin!' whispered a voice close to his ear.

'Ah!' said the Jew, turning quickly round, 'is that--'

'Yes!' interrupted the stranger. 'I have been lingering herethese two hours. Where the devil have you been?'

'On your business, my dear,' replied the Jew, glancing uneasilyat his companion, and slackening his pace as he spoke. 'On yourbusiness all night.'

'Oh, of course!' said the stranger, with a sneer. 'Well; andwhat's come of it?'

'Nothing good,' said the Jew.

'Nothing bad, I hope?' said the stranger, stopping short, andturning a startled look on his companion.

The Jew shook his head, and was about to reply, when thestranger, interrupting him, motioned to the house, before whichthey had by this time arrived: remarking, that he had better saywhat he had got to say, under cover: for his blood was chilledwith standing about so long, and the wind blew through him.

Fagin looked as if he could have willingly excused himself fromtaking home a visitor at that unseasonable hour; and, indeed,muttered something about having no fire; but his companionrepeating his request in a peremptory manner, he unlocked thedoor, and requested him to close it softly, while he got a light.

'It's as dark as the grave,' said the man, groping forward a fewsteps. 'Make haste!'

'Shut the door,' whispered Fagin from the end of the passage. Ashe spoke, it closed with a loud noise.

'That wasn't my doing,' said the other man, feeling his way. 'Thewind blew it to, or it shut of its own accord: one or the other. Look sharp with the light, or I shall knock my brains out againstsomething in this confounded hole.'

Fagin stealthily descended the kitchen stairs. After a shortabsence, he returned with a lighted candle, and the intelligencethat Toby Crackit was asleep in the back room below, and that theboys were in the front one. Beckoning the man to follow him, heled the way upstairs.

'We can say the few words we've got to say in here, my dear,'said the Jew, throwing open a door on the first floor; 'and asthere are holes in the shutters, and we never show lights to ourneighbours, we'll set the candle on the stairs. There!'

With those words, the Jew, stooping down, placed the candle on anupper flight of stairs, exactly opposite to the room door. Thisdone, he led the way into the apartment; which was destitute ofall movables save a broken arm-chair, and an old couch or sofawithout covering, which stood behind the door. Upon this pieceof furniture, the stranger sat himself with the air of a wearyman; and the Jew, drawing up the arm-chair opposite, they satface to face. It was not quite dark; the door was partiallyopen; and the candle outside, threw a feeble reflection on theopposite wall.

They conversed for some time in whispers. Though nothing of theconversation was distinguishable beyond a few disjointed wordshere and there, a listener might easily have perceived that Faginappeared to be defending himself against some remarks of thestranger; and that the latter was in a state of considerableirritation. They might have been talking, thus, for a quarter ofan hour or more, when Monks--by which name the Jew had designatedthe strange man several times in the course of theircolloquy--said, raising his voice a little,

'I tell you again, it was badly planned. Why not have kept himhere among the rest, and made a sneaking, snivelling pickpocketof him at once?'

'Only hear him!' exclaimed the Jew, shrugging his shoulders.

'Why, do you mean to say you couldn't have done it, if you hadchosen?' demanded Monks, sternly. 'Haven't you done it, withother boys, scores of times? If you had had patience for atwelvemonth, at most, couldn't you have got him convicted, andsent safely out of the kingdom; perhaps for life?'

'Whose turn would that have served, my dear?' inquired the Jewhumbly.

'Mine,' replied Monks.

'But not mine,' said the Jew, submissively. 'He might havebecome of use to me. When there are two parties to a bargain, itis only reasonable that the interests of both should beconsulted; is it, my good friend?'

'What then?' demanded Monks.

'I saw it was not easy to train him to the business,' replied theJew; 'he was not like other boys in the same circumstances.'

'Curse him, no!' muttered the man, 'or he would have been athief, long ago.'

'I had no hold upon him to make him worse,' pursued the Jew,anxiously watching the countenance of his companion. 'His handwas not in. I had nothing to frighten him with; which we alwaysmust have in the beginning, or we labour in vain. What could Ido? Send him out with the Dodger and Charley? We had enough ofthat, at first, my dear; I trembled for us all.'

'THAT was not my doing,' observed Monks.

'No, no, my dear!' renewed the Jew. 'And I don't quarrel with itnow; because, if it had never happened, you might never haveclapped eyes on the boy to notice him, and so led to thediscovery that it was him you were looking for. Well! I got himback for you by means of the girl; and then SHE begins to favourhim.'

'Throttle the girl!' said Monks, impatiently.

'Why, we can't afford to do that just now, my dear,' replied theJew, smiling; 'and, besides, that sort of thing is not in ourway; or, one of these days, I might be glad to have it done. Iknow what these girls are, Monks, well. As soon as the boybegins to harden, she'll care no more for him, than for a blockof wood. You want him made a thief. If he is alive, I can makehim one from this time; and, if--if--' said the Jew, drawingnearer to the other,--'it's not likely, mind,--but if the worstcomes to the worst, and he is dead--'

'It's no fault of mine if he is!' interposed the other man, witha look of terror, and clasping the Jew's arm with tremblinghands. 'Mind that. Fagin! I had no hand in it. Anything buthis death, I told you from the first. I won't shed blood; it'salways found out, and haunts a man besides. If they shot himdead, I was not the cause; do you hear me? Fire this infernalden! What's that?'

'What!' cried the Jew, grasping the coward round the body, withboth arms, as he sprung to his feet. 'Where?'

'Yonder! replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall. 'Theshadow! I saw the shadow of a woman, in a cloak and bonnet, passalong the wainscot like a breath!'

The Jew released his hold, and they rushed tumultuously from theroom. The candle, wasted by the draught, was standing where ithad been placed. It showed them only the empty staircase, andtheir own white faces. They listened intently: a profoundsilence reigned throughout the house.

'It's your fancy,' said the Jew, taking up the light and turningto his companion.

'I'll swear I saw it!' replied Monks, trembling. 'It was bendingforward when I saw it first; and when I spoke, it darted away.'

The Jew glanced contemptuously at the pale face of his associate,and, telling him he could follow, if he pleased, ascended thestairs. They looked into all the rooms; they were cold, bare,and empty. They descended into the passage, and thence into thecellars below. The green damp hung upon the low walls; thetracks of the snail and slug glistened in the light of thecandle; but all was still as death.

'What do you think now?' said the Jew, when they had regained thepassage. 'Besides ourselves, there's not a creature in the houseexcept Toby and the boys; and they're safe enough. See here!'

As a proof of the fact, the Jew drew forth two keys from hispocket; and explained, that when he first went downstairs, he hadlocked them in, to prevent any intrusion on the conference.

This accumulated testimony effectually staggered Mr. Monks. Hisprotestations had gradually become less and less vehement as theyproceeded in their search without making any discovery; and, now,he gave vent to several very grim laughs, and confessed it couldonly have been his excited imagination. He declined any renewalof the conversation, however, for that night: suddenlyremembering that it was past one o'clock. And so the amiablecouple parted.

CHAPTER XXVII

ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER CHAPTER; WHICH DESERTED ALADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY

As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep somighty a personage as a beadle waiting, with his back to thefire, and the skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms,until such time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve him; andas it would still less become his station, or his gallentry toinvolve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had lookedwith an eye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he hadwhispered sweet words, which, coming from such a quarter, mightwell thrill the bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever degree; thehistorian whose pen traces these words--trusting that he knowshis place, and that he entertains a becoming reverence for thoseupon earth to whom high and important authority isdelegated--hastens to pay them that respect which their positiondemands, and to treat them with all that duteous ceremony whichtheir exalted rank, and (by consequence) great virtues,imperatively claim at his hands. Towards this end, indeed, hehad purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation touchingthe divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the position,that a beadle can do no wrong: which could not fail to have beenboth pleasurable and profitable to the right-minded reader butwhich he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and space,to postpone to some more convenient and fitting opportunity; onthe arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that a beadleproperly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle,attached to a parochail workhouse, and attending in his officialcapacity the parochial church: is, in right and virtue of hisoffice, possessed of all the excellences and best qualities ofhumanity; and that to none of those excellences, can merecompanies' beadles, or court-of-law beadles, or evenchapel-of-ease beadles (save the last, and they in a very lowlyand inferior degree), lay the remotest sustainable claim.

Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed thesugar-tongs, made a closer inspection of the milk-pot, andascertained to a nicety the exact condition of the furniture,down to the very horse-hair seats of the chairs; and had repeatedeach process full half a dozen times; before he began to thinkthat it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begetsthinking; as there were no sounds of Mrs. Corney's approach, itoccured to Mr. Bumble that it would be an innocent and virtuousway of spending the time, if he were further to allay hiscuriousity by a cursory glance at the interior of Mrs. Corney'schest of drawers.

Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody wasapproaching the chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom,proceeded to make himself acquainted with the contents of thethree long drawers: which, being filled with various garments ofgood fashion and texture, carefully preserved between two layersof old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yieldhim exceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at theright-hand corner drawer (in which was the key), and beholdingtherein a small padlocked box, which, being shaken, gave forth apleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin, Mr. Bumble returnedwith a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his oldattitude, said, with a grave and determined air, 'I'll do it!' He followed up this remarkable declaration, by shaking his headin a waggish manner for ten minutes, as though he wereremonstrating with himself for being such a pleasant dog; andthen, he took a view of his legs in profile, with much seemingpleasure and interest.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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