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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 45)


'Not long gone seven,' said the girl. 'How do you feel to-night,Bill?'

'As weak as water,' replied Mr. Sikes, with an imprecation on hiseyes and limbs. 'Here; lend us a hand, and let me get off thisthundering bed anyhow.'

Illness had not improved Mr. Sikes's temper; for, as the girlraised him up and led him to a chair, he muttered various curseson her awkwardnewss, and struck her.

'Whining are you?' said Sikes. 'Come! Don't stand snivellingthere. If you can't do anything better than that, cut offaltogether. D'ye hear me?'

'I hear you,' replied the girl, turning her face aside, andforcing a laugh. 'What fancy have you got in your head now?'

'Oh! you've thought better of it, have you?' growled Sikes,marking the tear which trembled in her eye. 'All the better foryou, you have.'

'Why, you don't mean to say, you'd be hard upon me to-night,Bill,' said the girl, laying her hand upon his shoulder.

'No!' cried Mr. Sikes. 'Why not?'

'Such a number of nights,' said the girl, with a touch of woman'stenderness, which communicated something like sweetness of tone,even to her voice: 'such a number of nights as I've been patientwith you, nursing and caring for you, as if you had been a child:and this the first that I've seen you like yourself; you wouldn'thave served me as you did just now, if you'd thought of that,would you? Come, come; say you wouldn't.'

'Well, then,' rejoined Mr. Sikes, 'I wouldn't. Why, damme, now,the girls's whining again!'

'It's nothing,' said the girl, throwing herself into a chair.'Don't you seem to mind me. It'll soon be over.'

'What'll be over?' demanded Mr. Sikes in a savage voice. 'Whatfoolery are you up to, now, again? Get up and bustle about, anddon't come over me with your woman's nonsense.'

At any other time, this remonstrance, and the tone in which itwas delivered, would have had the desired effect; but the girlbeing really weak and exhausted, dropped her head over the backof the chair, and fainted, before Mr. Sikes could get out a fewof the appropriate oaths with which, on similar occasions, he wasaccustomed to garnish his threats. Not knowing, very well, whatto do, in this uncommon emergency; for Miss Nancy's hystericswere usually of that violent kind which the patient fights andstruggles out of, without much assistance; Mr. Sikes tried alittle blasphemy: and finding that mode of treatment whollyineffectual, called for assistance.

'What's the matter here, my dear?' said Fagin, looking in.

'Lend a hand to the girl, can't you?' replied Sikes impatiently. 'Don't stand chattering and grinning at me!'

With an exclamation of surprise, Fagin hastened to the girl'sassistance, while Mr. John Dawkins (otherwise the Artful Dodger),who had followed his venerable friend into the room, hastilydeposited on the floor a bundle with which he was laden; andsnatching a bottle from the grasp of Master Charles Bates whocame close at his heels, uncorked it in a twinkling with histeeth, and poured a portion of its contents down the patient'sthroat: previously taking a taste, himself, to prevent mistakes.

'Give her a whiff of fresh air with the bellows, Charley,' saidMr. Dawkins; 'and you slap her hands, Fagin, while Bill undoesthe petticuts.'

These united restoratives, administered with great energy:especially that department consigned to Master Bates, whoappeared to consider his share in the proceedings, a piece ofunexampled pleasantry: were not long in producing the desiredeffect. The girl gradually recovered her senses; and, staggeringto a chair by the bedside, hid her face upon the pillow: leavingMr. Sikes to confront the new comers, in some astonishment attheir unlooked-for appearance.

'Why, what evil wind has blowed you here?' he asked Fagin.

'No evil wind at all, my dear, for evil winds blow nobody anygood; and I've brought something good with me, that you'll beglad to see. Dodger, my dear, open the bundle; and give Bill thelittle trifles that we spent all our money on, this morning.'

In compliance with Mr. Fagin's request, the Artful untied thisbundle, which was of large size, and formed of an oldtable-cloth; and handed the articles it contained, one by one, toCharley Bates: who placed them on the table, with variousencomiums on their rarity and excellence.

'Sitch a rabbit pie, Bill,' exclaimed that young gentleman,disclosing to view a huge pasty; 'sitch delicate creeturs, withsitch tender limbs, Bill, that the wery bones melt in your mouth,and there's no occasion to pick 'em; half a pound of seven andsix-penny green, so precious strong that if you mix it withbiling water, it'll go nigh to blow the lid of the tea-pot off; apound and a half of moist sugar that the niggers didn't work atall at, afore they got it up to sitch a pitch of goodness,--ohno! Two half-quartern brans; pound of best fresh; piece ofdouble Glo'ster; and, to wind up all, some of the richest sortyou ever lushed!'

Uttering this last panegyrie, Master Bates produced, from one ofhis extensive pockets, a full-sized wine-bottle, carefullycorked; while Mr. Dawkins, at the same instant, poured out awine-glassful of raw spirits from the bottle he carried: whichthe invalid tossed down his throat without a moment's hesitation.

'Ah!' said Fagin, rubbing his hands with great satisfaction.'You'll do, Bill; you'll do now.'

'Do!' exclaimed Mr. Sikes; 'I might have been done for, twentytimes over, afore you'd have done anything to help me. What doyou mean by leaving a man in this state, three weeks and more,you false-hearted wagabond?'

'Only hear him, boys!' said Fagin, shrugging his shoulders. 'Andus come to bring him all these beau-ti-ful things.'

'The things is well enough in their way,' observed Mr. Sikes: alittle soothed as he glanced over the table; 'but what have yougot to say for yourself, why you should leave me here, down inthe mouth, health, blunt, and everything else; and take no morenotice of me, all this mortal time, than if I was that 'eredog.--Drive him down, Charley!'

'I never see such a jolly dog as that,' cried Master Bates, doingas he was desired. 'Smelling the grub like a old lady a going tomarket! He'd make his fortun' on the stage that dog would, andrewive the drayma besides.'

'Hold your din,' cried Sikes, as the dog retreated under the bed:

still growling angrily. 'What have you got to say for yourself,you withered old fence, eh?'

'I was away from London, a week and more, my dear, on a plant,'replied the Jew.

'And what about the other fortnight?' demanded Sikes. 'Whatabout the other fortnight that you've left me lying here, like asick rat in his hole?'

'I couldn't help it, Bill. I can't go into a long explanationbefore company; but I couldn't help it, upon my honour.'

'Upon your what?' growled Sikes, with excessive disgust. 'Here! Cut me off a piece of that pie, one of you boys, to take thetaste of that out of my mouth, or it'll choke me dead.'

'Don't be out of temper, my dear,' urged Fagin, submissively. 'Ihave never forgot you, Bill; never once.'

'No! I'll pound it that you han't,' replied Sikes, with a bittergrin. 'You've been scheming and plotting away, every hour that Ihave laid shivering and burning here; and Bill was to do this;and Bill was to do that; and Bill was to do it all, dirt cheap,as soon as he got well: and was quite poor enough for your work. If it hadn't been for the girl, I might have died.'

'There now, Bill,' remonstrated Fagin, eagerly catching at theword. 'If it hadn't been for the girl! Who but poor ould Faginwas the means of your having such a handy girl about you?'

'He says true enough there!' said Nancy, coming hastily forward. 'Let him be; let him be.'

Nancy's appearance gave a new turn to the conversation; for theboys, receiving a sly wink from the wary old Jew, began to plyher with liquor: of which, however, she took very sparingly;while Fagin, assuming an unusual flow of spirits, graduallybrought Mr. Sikes into a better temper, by affecting to regardhis threats as a little pleasant banter; and, moreover, bylaughing very heartily at one or two rough jokes, which, afterrepeated applications to the spirit-bottle, he condescended tomake.

'It's all very well,' said Mr. Sikes; 'but I must have some bluntfrom you to-night.'

'I haven't a piece of coin about me,' replied the Jew.

'Then you've got lots at home,' retorted Sikes; 'and I must havesome from there.'

'Lots!' cried Fagin, holding up is hands. 'I haven't so much aswould--'

'I don't know how much you've got, and I dare say you hardly knowyourself, as it would take a pretty long time to count it,' saidSikes; 'but I must have some to-night; and that's flat.'

'Well, well,' said Fagin, with a sigh, 'I'll send the Artfulround presently.'

'You won't do nothing of the kind,' rejoined Mr. Sikes. 'TheArtful's a deal too artful, and would forget to come, or lose hisway, or get dodged by traps and so be perwented, or anything foran excuse, if you put him up to it. Nancy shall go to the kenand fetch it, to make all sure; and I'll lie down and have asnooze while she's gone.'

After a great deal of haggling and squabbling, Fagin beat downthe amount of the required advance from five pounds to threepounds four and sixpence: protesting with many solemnasseverations that that would only leave him eighteen-pence tokeep house with; Mr. Sikes sullenly remarking that if he couldn'tget any more he must accompany him home; with the Dodger andMaster Bates put the eatables in the cupboard. The Jew then,taking leave of his affectionate friend, returned homeward,attended by Nancy and the boys: Mr. Sikes, meanwhile, flinginghimself on the bed, and composing himself to sleep away the timeuntil the young lady's return.

In due course, they arrived at Fagin's abode, where they foundToby Crackit and Mr. Chitling intent upon their fifteenth game atcribbage, which it is scarcely necessary to say the lattergentleman lost, and with it, his fifteenth and last sixpence:much to the amusement of his young friends. Mr. Crackit,apparently somewhat ashamed at being found relaxing himself witha gentleman so much his inferior in station and mentalendowments, yawned, and inquiring after Sikes, took up his hat togo.

'Has nobody been, Toby?' asked Fagin.

'Not a living leg,' answered Mr. Crackit, pulling up his collar;'it's been as dull as swipes. You ought to stand somethinghandsome, Fagin, to recompense me for keeping house so long. Damme, I'm as flat as a juryman; and should have gone to sleep,as fast as Newgate, if I hadn't had the good natur' to amuse thisyoungster. Horrid dull, I'm blessed if I an't!'

With these and other ejaculations of the same kind, Mr. TobyCrackit swept up his winnings, and crammed them into hiswaistcoat pocket with a haughty air, as though such small piecesof silver were wholly beneath the consideration of a man of hisfigure; this done, he swaggered out of the room, with so muchelegance and gentility, that Mr. Chitling, bestowing numerousadmiring glances on his legs and boots till they were out ofsight, assured the company that he considered his acquaintancecheap at fifteen sixpences an interview, and that he didn't valuehis losses the snap of his little finger.

'Wot a rum chap you are, Tom!' said Master Bates, highly amusedby this declaration.

'Not a bit of it,' replied Mr. Chitling. 'Am I, Fagin?'

'A very clever fellow, my dear,' said Fagin, patting him on theshoulder, and winking to his other pupils.

'And Mr. Crackit is a heavy swell; an't he, Fagin?' asked Tom.

'No doubt at all of that, my dear.'

'And it is a creditable thing to have his acquaintance; an't it,Fagin?' pursued Tom.

'Very much so, indeed, my dear. They're only jealous, Tom,because he won't give it to them.'

'Ah!' cried Tom, triumphantly, 'that's where it is! He hascleaned me out. But I can go and earn some more, when I like;can't I, Fagin?'

'To be sure you can, and the sooner you go the better, Tom; somake up your loss at once, and don't lose any more time. Dodger!

Charley! It's time you were on the lay. Come! It's near ten,and nothing done yet.'

In obedience to this hint, the boys, nodding to Nancy, took uptheir hats, and left the room; the Dodger and his vivaciousfriend indulging, as they went, in many witticisms at the expenseof Mr. Chitling; in whose conduct, it is but justice to say,there was nothing very conspicuous or peculiar: inasmuch asthere are a great number of spirited young bloods upon town, whopay a much higher price than Mr. Chitling for being seen in goodsociety: and a great number of fine gentlemen (composing thegood society aforesaid) who established their reputation uponvery much the same footing as flash Toby Crackit.

'Now,' said Fagin, when they had left the room, 'I'll go and getyou that cash, Nancy. This is only the key of a little cupboardwhere I keep a few odd things the boys get, my dear. I neverlock up my money, for I've got none to lock up, my dear--ha! ha!ha!--none to lock up. It's a poor trade, Nancy, and no thanks;but I'm fond of seeing the young people about me; and I bear itall, I bear it all. Hush!' he said, hastily concealing the keyin his breast; 'who's that? Listen!'

The girl, who was sitting at the table with her arms folded,appeared in no way interested in the arrival: or to care whetherthe person, whoever he was, came or went: until the murmur of aman's voice reached her ears. The instant she caught the sound,she tore off her bonnet and shawl, with the rapidity oflightning, and thrust them under the table. The Jew, turninground immediately afterwards, she muttered a complaint of theheat: in a tone of languor that contrasted, very remarkably,with the extreme haste and violence of this action: which,however, had been unobserved by Fagin, who had his back towardsher at the time.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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