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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 50)


'Hush!' said Barney: 'stradegers id the next roob.'

'Strangers!' repeated the old man in a whisper.

'Ah! Ad rub uds too,' added Barney. 'Frob the cuttry, butsubthig in your way, or I'b bistaked.'

Fagin appeared to receive this communication with great interest.

Mounting a stool, he cautiously applied his eye to the pane ofglass, from which secret post he could see Mr. Claypole takingcold beef from the dish, and porter from the pot, andadministering homoepathic doses of both to Charlotte, who satpatiently by, eating and drinking at his pleasure.

'Aha!' he whispered, looking round to Barney, 'I like thatfellow's looks. He'd be of use to us; he knows how to train thegirl already. Don't make as much noise as a mouse, my dear, andlet me hear 'em talk--let me hear 'em.'

He again applied his eye to the glass, and turning his ear to thepartition, listened attentively: with a subtle and eager lookupon his face, that might have appertained to some old goblin.

'So I mean to be a gentleman,' said Mr. Claypole, kicking out hislegs, and continuing a conversation, the commencement of whichFagin had arrived too late to hear. 'No more jolly old coffins,Charlotte, but a gentleman's life for me: and, if yer like, yershall be a lady.'

'I should like that well enough, dear,' replied Charlotte; 'buttills ain't to be emptied every day, and people to get clear offafter it.'

'Tills be blowed!' said Mr. Claypole; 'there's more thingsbesides tills to be emptied.'

'What do you mean?' asked his companion.

'Pockets, women's ridicules, houses, mail-coaches, banks!' saidMr. Claypole, rising with the porter.

'But you can't do all that, dear,' said Charlotte.

'I shall look out to get into company with them as can,' repliedNoah. 'They'll be able to make us useful some way or another. Why, you yourself are worth fifty women; I never see such aprecious sly and deceitful creetur as yer can be when I let yer.'

'Lor, how nice it is to hear yer say so!' exclaimed Charlotte,imprinting a kiss upon his ugly face.

'There, that'll do: don't yer be too affectionate, in case I'mcross with yer,' said Noah, disengaging himself with greatgravity. 'I should like to be the captain of some band, and havethe whopping of 'em, and follering 'em about, unbeknown tothemselves. That would suit me, if there was good profit; and ifwe could only get in with some gentleman of this sort, I say itwould be cheap at that twenty-pound note you've got,--especiallyas we don't very well know how to get rid of it ourselves.'

After expressing this opinion, Mr. Claypole looked into theporter-pot with an aspect of deep wisdom; and having well shakenits contents, nodded condescendingly to Charlotte, and took adraught, wherewith he appeared greatly refreshed. He wasmeditating another, when the sudden opening of the door, and theappearance of a stranger, interrupted him.

The stranger was Mr. Fagin. And very amiable he looked, and avery low bow he made, as he advanced, and setting himself down atthe nearest table, ordered something to drink of the grinningBarney.

'A pleasant night, sir, but cool for the time of year,' saidFagin, rubbing his hands. 'From the country, I see, sir?'

'How do yer see that?' asked Noah Claypole.

'We have not so much dust as that in London,' replied Fagin,pointing from Noah's shoes to those of his companion, and fromthem to the two bundles.

'Yer a sharp feller,' said Noah. 'Ha! ha! only hear that,Charlotte!'

'Why, one need be sharp in this town, my dear,' replied the Jew,sinking his voice to a confidential whisper; 'and that's thetruth.'

Fagin followed up this remark by striking the side of his nosewith his right forefinger,--a gesture which Noah attempted toimitate, though not with complete success, in consequence of hisown nose not being large enough for the purpose. However, Mr.Fagin seemed to interpret the endeavour as expressing a perfectcoincidence with his opinion, and put about the liquor whichBarney reappeared with, in a very friendly manner.

'Good stuff that,' observed Mr. Claypole, smacking his lips.

'Dear!' said Fagin. 'A man need be always emptying a till, or apocket, or a woman's reticule, or a house, or a mail-coach, or abank, if he drinks it regularly.'

Mr. Claypole no sooner heard this extract from his own remarksthan he fell back in his chair, and looked from the Jew toCharlotte with a countenance of ashy palences and excessiveterror.

'Don't mind me, my dear,' said Fagin, drawing his chair closer. 'Ha! ha! it was lucky it was only me that heard you by chance. It was very lucky it was only me.'

'I didn't take it,' stammered Noah, no longer stretching out hislegs like an independent gentleman, but coiling them up as wellas he could under his chair; 'it was all her doing; yer've got itnow, Charlotte, yer know yer have.'

'No matter who's got it, or who did it, my dear,' replied Fagin,glancing, nevertheless, with a hawk's eye at the girl and the twobundles. 'I'm in that way myself, and I like you for it.'

'In what way?' asked Mr. Claypole, a little recovering.

'In that way of business,' rejoined Fagin; 'and so are the peopleof the house. You've hit the right nail upon the head, and areas safe here as you could be. There is not a safer place in allthis town than is the Cripples; that is, when I like to make itso. And I have taken a fancy to you and the young woman; so I'vesaid the word, and you may make your minds easy.'

Noah Claypole's mind might have been at ease after thisassurance, but his body certainly was not; for he shuffled andwrithed about, into various uncouth positions: eyeing his newfriend meanwhile with mingled fear and suspicion.

'I'll tell you more,' said Fagin, after he had reassured thegirl, by dint of friendly nods and muttered encouragements. 'Ihave got a friend that I think can gratify your darling wish, andput you in the right way, where you can take whatever departmentof the business you think will suit you best at first, and betaught all the others.'

'Yer speak as if yer were in earnest,' replied Noah.

'What advantage would it be to me to be anything else?' inquiredFagin, shrugging his shoulders. 'Here! Let me have a word withyou outside.'

'There's no occasion to trouble ourselves to move,' said Noah,getting his legs by gradual degrees abroad again. 'She'll takethe luggage upstairs the while. Charlotte, see to them bundles.'

This mandate, which had been delivered with great majesty, wasobeyed without the slightest demur; and Charlotte made the bestof her way off with the packages while Noah held the door openand watched her out.

'She's kept tolerably well under, ain't she?' he asked as heresumed his seat: in the tone of a keeper who had tamed somewild animal.

'Quite perfect,' rejoined Fagin, clapping him on the shoulder. 'You're a genius, my dear.'

'Why, I suppose if I wasn't, I shouldn't be here,' replied Noah. 'But, I say, she'll be back if yer lose time.'

'Now, what do you think?' said Fagin. 'If you was to like myfriend, could you do better than join him?'

'Is he in a good way of business; that's where it is!' respondedNoah, winking one of his little eyes.

'The top of the tree; employs a power of hands; has the very bestsociety in the profession.'

'Regular town-maders?' asked Mr. Claypole.

'Not a countryman among 'em; and I don't think he'd take you,even on my recommendation, if he didn't run rather short ofassistants just now,' replied Fagin.

'Should I have to hand over?' said Noah, slapping hisbreeches-pocket.

'It couldn't possibly be done without,' replied Fagin, in a mostdecided manner.

'Twenty pound, though--it's a lot of money!'

'Not when it's in a note you can't get rid of,' retorted Fagin. 'Number and date taken, I suppose? Payment stopped at the Bank? Ah! It's not worth much to him. It'll have to go abroad, and hecouldn't sell it for a great deal in the market.'

'When could I see him?' asked Noah doubtfully.

'To-morrow morning.'

'Where?'

'Here.'

'Um!' said Noah. 'What's the wages?'

'Live like a gentleman--board and lodging, pipes and spiritsfree--half of all you earn, and half of all the young womanearns,' replied Mr. Fagin.

Whether Noah Claypole, whose rapacity was none of the leastcomprehensive, would have acceded even to these glowing terms,had he been a perfectly free agent, is very doubtful; but as herecollected that, in the event of his refusal, it was in thepower of his new acquaintance to give him up to justiceimmediately (and more unlikely things had come to pass), hegradually relented, and said he thought that would suit him.

'But, yer see,' observed Noah, 'as she will be able to do a gooddeal, I should like to take something very light.'

'A little fancy work?' suggested Fagin.

'Ah! something of that sort,' replied Noah. 'What do you thinkwould suit me now? Something not too trying for the strength,and not very dangerous, you know. That's the sort of thing!'

'I heard you talk of something in the spy way upon the others, mydear,' said Fagin. 'My friend wants somebody who would do thatwell, very much.'

'Why, I did mention that, and I shouldn't mind turning my hand toit sometimes,' rejoined Mr. Claypole slowly; 'but it wouldn't payby itself, you know.'

'That's true!' observed the Jew, ruminating or pretending toruminate. 'No, it might not.'

'What do you think, then?' asked Noah, anxiously regarding him. 'Something in the sneaking way, where it was pretty sure work,and not much more risk than being at home.'

'What do you think of the old ladies?' asked Fagin. 'There's agood deal of money made in snatching their bags and parcels, andrunning round the corner.'

'Don't they holler out a good deal, and scratch sometimes?' askedNoah, shaking his head. 'I don't think that would answer mypurpose. Ain't there any other line open?'

'Stop!' said Fagin, laying his hand on Noah's knee. 'The kinchinlay.'

'The kinchins, my dear,' said Fagin, 'is the young childrenthat's sent on errands by their mothers, with sixpences andshillings; and the lay is just to take their money away--they'vealways got it ready in their hands,--then knock 'em into thekennel, and walk off very slow, as if there were nothing else thematter but a child fallen down and hurt itself. Ha! ha! ha!'

'Ha! ha!' roared Mr. Claypole, kicking up his legs in an ecstasy.

'Lord, that's the very thing!'

'To be sure it is,' replied Fagin; 'and you can have a few goodbeats chalked out in Camden Town, and Battle Bridge, andneighborhoods like that, where they're always going errands; andyou can upset as many kinchins as you want, any hour in the day. Ha! ha! ha!'

With this, Fagin poked Mr. Claypole in the side, and they joinedin a burst of laughter both long and loud.

'Well, that's all right!' said Noah, when he had recoveredhimself, and Charlotte had returned. 'What time to-morrow shallwe say?'

'Will ten do?' asked Fagin, adding, as Mr. Claypole noddedassent, 'What name shall I tell my good friend.'

'Mr. Bolter,' replied Noah, who had prepared himself for suchemergency. 'Mr. Morris Bolter. This is Mrs. Bolter.'

'Mrs. Bolter's humble servant,' said Fagin, bowing with grotesquepoliteness. 'I hope I shall know her better very shortly.'

'Do you hear the gentleman, Charlotte?' thundered Mr. Claypole.

'Yes, Noah, dear!' replied Mrs. Bolter, extending her hand.

'She calls me Noah, as a sort of fond way of talking,' said Mr.Morris Bolter, late Claypole, turning to Fagin. 'Youunderstand?'

'Oh yes, I understand--perfectly,' replied Fagin, telling thetruth for once. 'Good-night! Good-night!'

With many adieus and good wishes, Mr. Fagin went his way. NoahClaypole, bespeaking his good lady's attention, proceeded toenlighten her relative to the arrangement he had made, with allthat haughtiness and air of superiority, becoming, not only amember of the sterner sex, but a gentleman who appreciated thedignity of a special appointment on the kinchin lay, in Londonand its vicinity.

CHAPTER XLIII

WHEREIN IS SHOWN HOW THE ARTFUL DODGER GOT INTO TROUBLE

'And so it was you that was your own friend, was it?' asked Mr.Claypole, otherwise Bolter, when, by virtue of the compactentered into between them, he had removed next day to Fagin'shouse. ''Cod, I thought as much last night!'

'Every man's his own friend, my dear,' replied Fagin, with hismost insinuating grin. 'He hasn't as good a one as himselfanywhere.'

'Except sometimes,' replied Morris Bolter, assuming the air of aman of the world. 'Some people are nobody's enemies but theirown, yer know.'

'Don't believe that,' said Fagin. 'When a man's his own enemy,it's only because he's too much his own friend; not because he'scareful for everybody but himself. Pooh! pooh! There ain't sucha thing in nature.'

'There oughn't to be, if there is,' replied Mr. Bolter.

'That stands to reason. Some conjurers say that number three isthe magic number, and some say number seven. It's neither, myfriend, neither. It's number one.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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