Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 17)

'Why?' inquired the Jew with a forced smile.

'Cause the government, as cares for the lives of such men as you,as haven't half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill a dog how helikes,' replied Sikes, shutting up the knife with a veryexpressive look; 'that's why.'

The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table,affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend. He wasobviously very ill at ease, however.

'Grin away,' said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying himwith savage contempt; 'grin away. You'll never have the laugh atme, though, unless it's behind a nightcap. I've got the upperhand over you, Fagin; and, d--me, I'll keep it. There! If I go,you go; so take care of me.'

'Well, well, my dear,' said the Jew, 'I know all that;we--we--have a mutual interest, Bill,--a mutual interest.'

'Humph,' said Sikes, as if he though the interest lay rather moreon the Jew's side than on his. 'Well, what have you got to sayto me?'

'It's all passed safe through the melting-pot,' replied Fagin,'and this is your share. It's rather more than it ought to be,my dear; but as I know you'll do me a good turn another time,and--'

'Stow that gammon,' interposed the robber, impatiently. 'Where isit? Hand over!'

'Yes, yes, Bill; give me time, give me time,' replied the Jew,soothingly. 'Here it is! All safe!' As he spoke, he drew forthan old cotton handkerchief from his breast; and untying a largeknot in one corner, produced a small brown-paper packet. Sikes,snatching it from him, hastily opened it; and proceeded to countthe sovereigns it contained.

'This is all, is it?' inquired Sikes.

'All,' replied the Jew.

'You haven't opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as youcome along, have you?' inquired Sikes, suspiciously. 'Don't puton an injured look at the question; you've done it many a time. Jerk the tinkler.'

These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring thebell. It was answered by another Jew: younger than Fagin, butnearly as vile and repulsive in appearance.

Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure. The Jew,perfectly understanding the hint, retired to fill it: previouslyexchanging a remarkable look with Fagin, who raised his eyes foran instant, as if in expectation of it, and shook his head inreply; so slightly that the action would have been almostimperceptible to an observant third person. It was lost uponSikes, who was stooping at the moment to tie the boot-lace whichthe dog had torn. Possibly, if he had observed the briefinterchange of signals, he might have thought that it boded nogood to him.

'Is anybody here, Barney?' inquired Fagin; speaking, now thatthat Sikes was looking on, without raising his eyes from theground.

'Dot a shoul,' replied Barney; whose words: whether they camefrom the heart or not: made their way through the nose.

'Nobody?' inquired Fagin, in a tone of surprise: which perhapsmight mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth.

'Dobody but Biss Dadsy,' replied Barney.

'Nancy!' exclaimed Sikes. 'Where? Strike me blind, if I don'thonour that 'ere girl, for her native talents.'

'She's bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar,' repliedBarney.

'Send her here,' said Sikes, pouring out a glass of liquor. 'Sendher here.'

Barney looked timidly at Fagin, as if for permission; the Jewreamining silent, and not lifting his eyes from the ground, heretired; and presently returned, ushering in Nancy; who wasdecorated with the bonnet, apron, basket, and street-door key,complete.

'You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?' inquired Sikes,proffering the glass.

'Yes, I am, Bill,' replied the young lady, disposing of itscontents; 'and tired enough of it I am, too. The young brat'sbeen ill and confined to the crib; and--'

'Ah, Nancy, dear!' said Fagin, looking up.

Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew's red eye-brows,and a half closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy thatshe was disposed to be too communicative, is not a matter of muchimportance. The fact is all we need care for here; and the factis, that she suddenly checked herself, and with several gracioussmiles upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to other matters. In about ten minutes' time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit ofcoughing; upon which Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders,and declared it was time to go. Mr. Sikes, finding that he waswalking a short part of her way himself, expressed his intentionof accompanying her; they went away together, followed, at alittle distant, by the dog, who slunk out of a back-yard as soonas his master was out of sight.

The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had leftit; looked after him as we walked up the dark passage; shook hisclenched fist; muttered a deep curse; and then, with a horriblegrin, reseated himself at the table; where he was soon deeplyabsorbed in the interesting pages of the Hue-and-Cry.

Meanwhile, Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within sovery short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his wayto the book-stall. When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidentlyturned down a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but notdiscovering his mistake until he had got half-way down it, andknowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think itworth while to turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as hecould, with the books under his arm.

He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he oughtto feel; and how much he would give for only one look at poorlittle Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be weeping bitterlyat that very moment; when he was startled by a young womanscreaming out very loud. 'Oh, my dear brother!' And he hadhardly looked up, to see what the matter was, when he was stoppedby having a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck.

'Don't,' cried Oliver, struggling. 'Let go of me. Who is it? What are you stopping me for?'

The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentationsfrom the young woman who had embraced him; and who had a littlebasket and a street-door key in her hand.

'Oh my gracious!' said the young woman, 'I have found him! Oh! Oliver! Oliver! Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer suchdistress on your account! Come home, dear, come. Oh, I've foundhim. Thank gracious goodness heavins, I've found him!' Withthese incoherent exclamations, the young woman burst into anotherfit of crying, and got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple ofwomen who came up at the moment asked a butcher's boy with ashiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was also looking on,whether he didn't think he had better run for the doctor. Towhich, the butcher's boy: who appeared of a lounging, not to sayindolent disposition: replied, that he thought not.

'Oh, no, no, never mind,' said the young woman, grasping Oliver'shand; 'I'm better now. Come home directly, you cruel boy! Come!'

'Oh, ma'am,' replied the young woman, 'he ran away, near a monthago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectablepeople; and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters;and almost broke his mother's heart.'

'Young wretch!' said one woman.

'Go home, do, you little brute,' said the other.

'I am not,' replied Oliver, greatly alarmed. 'I don't know her. I haven't any sister, or father and mother either. I'm anorphan; I live at Pentonville.'

'Only hear him, how he braves it out!' cried the young woman.

'Why, it's Nancy!' exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face for thefirst time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment.

'You see he knows me!' cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders. 'He can't help himself. Make him come home, there's good people,or he'll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart!'

'What the devil's this?' said a man, bursting out of a beer-shop,with a white dog at his heels; 'young Oliver! Come home to yourpoor mother, you young dog! Come home directly.'

'I don't belong to them. I don't know them. Help! help! criedOliver, struggling in the man's powerful grasp.

'Help!' repeated the man. 'Yes; I'll help you, you young rascal!

What books are these? You've been a stealing 'em, have you? Give 'em here.' With these words, the man tore the volumes fromhis grasp, and struck him on the head.

'That's right!' cried a looker-on, from a garret-window. 'That'sthe only way of bringing him to his senses!'

'To be sure!' cried a sleepy-faced carpenter, casting anapproving look at the garret-window.

'It'll do him good!' said the two women.

'And he shall have it, too!' rejoined the man, administeringanother blow, and seizing Oliver by the collar. 'Come on, youyoung villain! Here, Bull's-eye, mind him, boy! Mind him!'

Weak with recent illness; stupified by the blows and thesuddenness of the attack; terrified by the fierce growling of thedog, and the brutality of the man; overpowered by the convictionof the bystanders that he really was the hardened little wretchhe was described to be; what could one poor child do! Darknesshad set in; it was a low neighborhood; no help was near;resistance was useless. In another moment he was dragged into alabyrinth of dark narrow courts, and was forced along them at apace which rendered the few cries he dared to give utterance to,unintelligible. It was of little moment, indeed, whether theywere intelligible or no; for there was nobody to care for them,had they been ever so plain.

* * * * * * * * *

The gas-lamps were lighted; Mrs. Bedwin was waiting anxiously atthe open door; the servant had run up the street twenty times tosee if there were any traces of Oliver; and still the two oldgentlemen sat, perseveringly, in the dark parlour, with the watchbetween them.



The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a largeopen space; scattered about which, were pens for beasts, andother indications of a cattle-market. Sikes slackened his pacewhen they reached this spot: the girl being quite unable tosupport any longer, the rapid rate at which they had hithertowalked. Turning to Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take holdof Nancy's hand.

'Do you hear?' growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and lookedround.

They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers.

Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of noavail. He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.

'Give me the other,' said Sikes, seizing Oliver's unoccupiedhand. 'Here, Bull's-Eye!'

The dog looked up, and growled.

'See here, boy!' said Sikes, putting his other hand to Oliver'sthroat; 'if he speaks ever so soft a word, hold him! D'ye mind!'

The dog growled again; and licking his lips, eyed Oliver as if hewere anxious to attach himself to his windpipe without delay.

'He's as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if he isn't!'said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim andferocious approval. 'Now, you know what you've got to expect,master, so call away as quick as you like; the dog will soon stopthat game. Get on, young'un!'

Bull's-eye wagged his tail in acknowledgment of this unusuallyendearing form of speech; and, giving vent to another admonitorygrowl for the benefit of Oliver, led the way onward.

It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might havebeen Grosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary. The night was dark and foggy. The lights in the shops couldscarecely struggle through the heavy mist, which thickened everymoment and shrouded the streets and houses in gloom; renderingthe strange place still stranger in Oliver's eyes; and making hisuncertainty the more dismal and depressing.

They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struckthe hour. With its first stroke, his two conductors stopped, andturned their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded.

'Eight o' clock, Bill,' said Nancy, when the bell ceased.

'What's the good of telling me that; I can hear it, can't I!'replied Sikes.

'I wonder whether THEY can hear it,' said Nancy.

'Of course they can,' replied Sikes. 'It was Bartlemy time whenI was shopped; and there warn't a penny trumpet in the fair, as Icouldn't hear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for thenight, the row and din outside made the thundering old jail sosilent, that I could almost have beat my brains out against theiron plates of the door.'

'Poor fellow!' said Nancy, who still had her face turned towardsthe quarter in which the bell had sounded. 'Oh, Bill, such fineyoung chaps as them!'

'Yes; that's all you women think of,' answered Sikes. 'Fineyoung chaps! Well, they're as good as dead, so it don't muchmatter.'

With this consolation, Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a risingtendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver's wrist more firmly,told him to step out again.

'Wait a minute!' said the girl: 'I wouldn't hurry by, if it wasyou that was coming out to be hung, the next time eight o'clockstruck, Bill. I'd walk round and round the place till I dropped,if the snow was on the ground, and I hadn't a shawl to cover me.'

'And what good would that do?' inquired the unsentimental Mr.Sikes. 'Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards ofgood stout rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, ornot walking at all, for all the good it would do me. Come on,and don't stand preaching there.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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