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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 52)


Noah looked eagerly about him for the Dodger; but although therewere several women who would have done very well for thatdistinguished character's mother or sister, and more than one manwho might be supposed to bear a strong resemblance to his father,nobody at all answering the description given him of Mr. Dawkinswas to be seen. He waited in a state of much suspense anduncertainty until the women, being committed for trial, wentflaunting out; and then was quickly relieved by the appearance ofanother prisoner who he felt at once could be no other than theobject of his visit.

It was indeed Mr. Dawkins, who, shuffling into the office withthe big coat sleeves tucked up as usual, his left hand in hispocket, and his hat in his right hand, preceded the jailer, witha rolling gait altogether indescribable, and, taking his place inthe dock, requested in an audible voice to know what he wasplaced in that 'ere disgraceful sitivation for.

'Hold your tongue, will you?' said the jailer.

'I'm an Englishman, ain't I?' rejoined the Dodger. 'Where are mypriwileges?'

'You'll get your privileges soon enough,' retorted the jailer,'and pepper with 'em.'

'We'll see wot the Secretary of State for the Home Affairs hasgot to say to the beaks, if I don't,' replied Mr. Dawkins. 'Nowthen! Wot is this here business? I shall thank the madg'stratesto dispose of this here little affair, and not to keep me whilethey read the paper, for I've got an appointment with a genelmanin the City, and as I am a man of my word and wery punctual inbusiness matters, he'll go away if I ain't there to my time, andthen pr'aps ther won't be an action for damage against them askep me away. Oh no, certainly not!'

At this point, the Dodger, with a show of being very particularwith a view to proceedings to be had thereafter, desired thejailer to communicate 'the names of them two files as was on thebench.' Which so tickled the spectators, that they laughedalmost as heartily as Master Bates could have done if he hadheard the request.

'Silence there!' cried the jailer.

'What is this?' inquired one of the magistrates.

'A pick-pocketing case, your worship.'

'Has the boy ever been here before?'

'He ought to have been, a many times,' replied the jailer. 'Hehas been pretty well everywhere else. _I_ know him well, yourworship.'

'Oh! you know me, do you?' cried the Artful, making a note of thestatement. 'Wery good. That's a case of deformation ofcharacter, any way.'

Here there was another laugh, and another cry of silence.

'Now then, where are the witnesses?' said the clerk.

'Ah! that's right,' added the Dodger. 'Where are they? I shouldlike to see 'em.'

This wish was immediately gratified, for a policeman steppedforward who had seen the prisoner attempt the pocket of anunknown gentleman in a crowd, and indeed take a handkerchieftherefrom, which, being a very old one, he deliberately put backagain, after trying in on his own countenance. For this reason,he took the Dodger into custody as soon as he could get near him,and the said Dodger, being searched, had upon his person a silversnuff-box, with the owner's name engraved upon the lid. Thisgentleman had been discovered on reference to the Court Guide,and being then and there present, swore that the snuff-box washis, and that he had missed it on the previous day, the moment hehad disengaged himself from the crowd before referred to. He hadalso remarked a young gentleman in the throng, particularlyactive in making his way about, and that young gentleman was theprisoner before him.

'Have you anything to ask this witness, boy?' said themagistrate.

'I wouldn't abase myself by descending to hold no conversationwith him' replied the Dodger.

'Have you anything to say at all?'

'Do you hear his worship ask if you've anything to say?' inquiredthe jailer, nudging the silent Dodger with his elbow.

'I beg your pardon,' said the Dodger, looking up with an air ofabstraction. 'Did you redress yourself to me, my man?'

'I never see such an out-and-out young wagabond, your worship,'observed the officer with a grin. 'Do you mean to say anything,you young shaver?'

'No,' replied the Dodger, 'not here, for this ain't the shop forjustice: besides which, my attorney is a-breakfasting thismorning with the Wice President of the House of Commons; but Ishall have something to say elsewhere, and so will he, and sowill a wery numerous and 'spectable circle of acquaintance as'llmake them beaks wish they'd never been born, or that they'd gottheir footmen to hang 'em up to their own hat-pegs, afore theylet 'em come out this morning to try it on upon me. I'll--'

'There! He's fully committed!' interposed the clerk. 'Take himaway.'

'Come on,' said the jailer.

'Oh ah! I'll come on,' replied the Dodger, brushing his hat withthe palm of his hand. 'Ah! (to the Bench) it's no use yourlooking frightened; I won't show you no mercy, not a ha'porth ofit. YOU'LL pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn't be you forsomething! I wouldn't go free, now, if you was to fall down onyour knees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison! Take meaway!'

With these last words, the Dodger suffered himself to be led offby the collar; threatening, till he got into the yard, to make aparliamentary business of it; and then grinning in the officer'sface, with great glee and self-approval.

Having seen him locked up by himself in a little cell, Noah madethe best of his way back to where he had left Master Bates. After waiting here some time, he was joined by that younggentleman, who had prudently abstained from showing himself untilhe had looked carefully abroad from a snug retreat, andascertained that his new friend had not been followed by anyimpertinent person.

The two hastened back together, to bear to Mr. Fagin theanimating news that the Dodger was doing full justice to hisbringing-up, and establishing for himself a glorious reputation.

CHAPTER XLIV

THE TIME ARRIVES FOR NANCY TO REDEEM HER PLEDGE TO ROSE MAYLIE. SHE FAILS.

Adept as she was, in all the arts of cunning and dissimulation,the girl Nancy could not wholly conceal the effect which theknowledge of the step she had taken, wrought upon her mind. Sheremembered that both the crafty Jew and the brutal Sikes hadconfided to her schemes, which had been hidden from all others: in the full confidence that she was trustworthy and beyond thereach of their suspicion. Vile as those schemes were, desperateas were their originators, and bitter as were her feelingstowards Fagin, who had led her, step by step, deeper and deeperdown into an abyss of crime and misery, whence was no escape;still, there were times when, even towards him, she felt somerelenting, lest her disclosure should bring him within the irongrasp he had so long eluded, and he should fall at last--richlyas he merited such a fate--by her hand.

But, these were the mere wanderings of a mind unwholly to detachitself from old companions and associations, though enabled tofix itself steadily on one object, and resolved not to be turnedaside by any consideration. Her fears for Sikes would have beenmore powerful inducements to recoil while there was yet time; butshe had stipulated that her secret should be rigidly kept, shehad dropped no clue which could lead to his discovery, she hadrefused, even for his sake, a refuge from all the guilt andwretchedness that encompasses her--and what more could she do! She was resolved.

Though all her mental struggles terminated in this conclusion,they forced themselves upon her, again and again, and left theirtraces too. She grew pale and thin, even within a few days. Attimes, she took no heed of what was passing before her, or nopart in conversations where once, she would have been theloudest. At other times, she laughed without merriment, and wasnoisy without a moment afterwards--she sat silent and dejected,brooding with her head upon her hands, while the very effort bywhich she roused herself, told, more forcibly than even theseindications, that she was ill at ease, and that her thoughts wereoccupied with matters very different and distant from those inthe course of discussion by her companions.

It was Sunday night, and the bell of the nearest church struckthe hour. Sikes and the Jew were talking, but they paused tolisten. The girl looked up from the low seat on which shecrouched, and listened too. Eleven.

'An hour this side of midnight,' said Sikes, raising the blind tolook out and returning to his seat. 'Dark and heavy it is too. A good night for business this.'

'Ah!' replied Fagin. 'What a pity, Bill, my dear, that there'snone quite ready to be done.'

'You're right for once,' replied Sikes gruffly. 'It is a pity,for I'm in the humour too.'

Fagin sighed, and shook his head despondingly.

'We must make up for lost time when we've got things into a goodtrain. That's all I know,' said Sikes.

'That's the way to talk, my dear,' replied Fagin, venturing topat him on the shoulder. 'It does me good to hear you.'

'Does you good, does it!' cried Sikes. 'Well, so be it.'

'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Fagin, as if he were relieved by even thisconcession. 'You're like yourself to-night, Bill. Quite likeyourself.'

'I don't feel like myself when you lay that withered old claw onmy shoulder, so take it away,' said Sikes, casting off the Jew'shand.

'It make you nervous, Bill,--reminds you of being nabbed, doesit?' said Fagin, determined not to be offended.

'Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil,' returned Sikes. 'Therenever was another man with such a face as yours, unless it wasyour father, and I suppose HE is singeing his grizzled red beardby this time, unless you came straight from the old 'un withoutany father at all betwixt you; which I shouldn't wonder at, abit.'

Fagin offered no reply to this compliment: but, pulling Sikes bythe sleeve, pointed his finger towards Nancy, who had takenadvantage of the foregoing conversation to put on her bonnet, andwas now leaving the room.

'Hallo!' cried Sikes. 'Nance. Where's the gal going to at thistime of night?'

'Not far.'

'What answer's that?' retorted Sikes. 'Do you hear me?'

'I don't know where,' replied the girl.

'Then I do,' said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy thanbecause he had any real objection to the girl going where shelisted. 'Nowhere. Sit down.'

'I'm not well. I told you that before,' rejoined the girl. 'Iwant a breath of air.'

'Put your head out of the winder,' replied Sikes.

'There's not enough there,' said the girl. 'I want it in thestreet.'

'Then you won't have it,' replied Sikes. With which assurance herose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnetfrom her head, flung it up to the top of an old press. 'There,'said the robber. 'Now stop quietly where you are, will you?'

'It's not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,' said the girlturning very pale. 'What do you mean, Bill? Do you know whatyou're doing?'

'Know what I'm--Oh!' cried Sikes, turning to Fagin, 'she's out ofher senses, you know, or she daren't talk to me in that way.'

'You'll drive me on the something desperate,' muttered the girlplacing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down byforce some violent outbreak. 'Let me go, will you,--thisminute--this instant.'

'No!' said Sikes.

'Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It'll be betterfor him. Do you hear me?' cried Nancy stamping her foot upon theground.

'Hear you!' repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confronther. 'Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dogshall have such a grip on your throat as'll tear some of thatscreaming voice out. Wot has come over you, you jade! Wot isit?'

'Let me go,' said the girl with great earnestness; then sittingherself down on the floor, before the door, she said, 'Bill, letme go; you don't know what you are doing. You don't, indeed. Foronly one hour--do--do!'

'Cut my limbs off one by one!' cried Sikes, seizing her roughlyby the arm, 'If I don't think the gal's stark raving mad. Getup.'

'Not till you let me go--not till you let me go--Never--never!'screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for a minute, watching hisopportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her,struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small roomadjoining, where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting herinto a chair, held her down by force. She struggled and imploredby turns until twelve o'clock had struck, and then, wearied andexhausted, ceased to contest the point any further. With acaution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go outthat night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoinedFagin.

'Whew!' said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from hisface. 'Wot a precious strange gal that is!'

'You may say that, Bill,' replied Fagin thoughtfully. 'You maysay that.'

'Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do youthink?' asked Sikes. 'Come; you should know her better than me. Wot does is mean?'

'Obstinacy; woman's obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.'

'Well, I suppose it is,' growled Sikes. 'I thought I had tamedher, but she's as bad as ever.'

'Worse,' said Fagin thoughtfully. 'I never knew her like this,for such a little cause.'

'Nor I,' said Sikes. 'I think she's got a touch of that fever inher blood yet, and it won't come out--eh?'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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