Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 25)

The night was very dark. A damp mist rose from the river, andthe marshy ground about; and spread itself over the drearyfields. It was piercing cold, too; all was gloomy and black. Not a word was spoken; for the driver had grown sleepy; and Sikeswas in no mood to lead him into conversation. Oliver sat huddledtogether, in a corner of the cart; bewildered with alarm andapprehension; and figuring strange objects in the gaunt trees,whose branches waved grimly to and fro, as if in some fantasticjoy at the desolation of the scene.

As they passed Sunbury Church, the clock struck seven. There wasa light in the ferry-house window opposite: which streamedacross the road, and threw into more sombre shadow a darkyew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dull sound offalling water not far off; and the leaves of the old tree stirredgently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for therepose of the dead.

Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonelyroad. Two or three miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikesalighted, took Oliver by the hand, and they once again walked on.

They turned into no house at Shepperton, as the weary boy hadexpected; but still kept walking on, in mud and darkness, throughgloomy lanes and over cold open wastes, until they came withinsight of the lights of a town at no great distance. On lookingintently forward, Oliver saw that the water was just below them,and that they were coming to the foot of a bridge.

Sikes kept straight on, until they were close upon the bridge;then turned suddenly down a bank upon the left.

'The water!' thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. 'He hasbrought me to this lonely place to murder me!'

He was about to throw himself on the ground, and make onestruggle for his young life, when he saw that they stood before asolitary house: all ruinous and decayed. There was a window oneach side of the dilapidated entrance; and one story above; butno light was visible. The house was dark, dismantled: and theall appearance, uninhabited.

Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the lowporch, and raised the latch. The door yielded to the pressure,and they passed in together.



'Hallo!' cried a loud, hoarse voice, as soon as they set foot inthe passage.

'Don't make such a row,' said Sikes, bolting the door. 'Show aglim, Toby.'

'Aha! my pal!' cried the same voice. 'A glim, Barney, a glim! Show the gentleman in, Barney; wake up first, if convenient.'

The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article,at the person he addressed, to rouse him from his slumbers: forthe noise of a wooden body, falling violently, was heard; andthen an indistinct muttering, as of a man between sleep andawake.

'Do you hear?' cried the same voice. 'There's Bill Sikes in thepassage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleepingthere, as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothingstronger. Are you any fresher now, or do you want the ironcandlestick to wake you thoroughly?'

A pair of slipshod feet shuffled, hastily, across the bare floorof the room, as this interrogatory was put; and there issued,from a door on the right hand; first, a feeble candle: and next,the form of the same individual who has been heretofore describedas labouring under the infirmity of speaking through his nose,and officiating as waiter at the public-house on Saffron Hill.

'Bister Sikes!' exclaimed Barney, with real or counterfeit joy;'cub id, sir; cub id.'

'Here! you get on first,' said Sikes, putting Oliver in front ofhim. 'Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels.'

Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver beforehim; and they entered a low dark room with a smoky fire, two orthree broken chairs, a table, and a very old couch: on which,with his legs much higher than his head, a man was reposing atfull length, smoking a long clay pipe. He was dressed in asmartly-cut snuff-coloured coat, with large brass buttons; anorange neckerchief; a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat;and drab breeches. Mr. Crackit (for he it was) had no very greatquantity of hair, either upon his head or face; but what he had,was of a reddish dye, and tortured into long corkscrew curls,through which he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers,ornamented with large common rings. He was a trifle above themiddle size, and apparently rather weak in the legs; but thiscircumstance by no means detracted from his own admiration of histop-boots, which he contemplated, in their elevated situation,with lively satisfaction.

'Bill, my boy!' said this figure, turning his head towards thedoor, 'I'm glad to see you. I was almost afraid you'd given itup: in which case I should have made a personal wentur. Hallo!'

Uttering this exclamation in a tone of great surprise, as hiseyes rested on Oliver, Mr. Toby Crackit brought himself into asitting posture, and demanded who that was.

'The boy. Only the boy!' replied Sikes, drawing a chair towardsthe fire.

'Wud of Bister Fagid's lads,' exclaimed Barney, with a grin.

'Fagin's, eh!' exclaimed Toby, looking at Oliver. 'Wot aninwalable boy that'll make, for the old ladies' pockets inchapels! His mug is a fortin' to him.'

'There--there's enough of that,' interposed Sikes, impatiently;and stooping over his recumbant friend, he whispered a few wordsin his ear: at which Mr. Crackit laughed immensely, and honouredOliver with a long stare of astonishment.

'Now,' said Sikes, as he resumed his seat, 'if you'll give ussomething to eat and drink while we're waiting, you'll put someheart in us; or in me, at all events. Sit down by the fire,younker, and rest yourself; for you'll have to go out with usagain to-night, though not very far off.'

Oliver looked at Sikes, in mute and timid wonder; and drawing astool to the fire, sat with his aching head upon his hands,scarecely knowing where he was, or what was passing around him.

'Here,' said Toby, as the young Jew placed some fragments offood, and a bottle upon the table, 'Success to the crack!' Herose to honour the toast; and, carefully depositing his emptypipe in a corner, advanced to the table, filled a glass withspirits, and drank off its contents. Mr. Sikes did the same.

'A drain for the boy,' said Toby, half-filling a wine-glass.'Down with it, innocence.'

'Indeed,' said Oliver, looking piteously up into the man's face;'indeed, I--'

'Down with it!' echoed Toby. 'Do you think I don't know what'sgood for you? Tell him to drink it, Bill.'

'He had better!' said Sikes clapping his hand upon his pocket.'Burn my body, if he isn't more trouble than a whole family ofDodgers. Drink it, you perwerse imp; drink it!'

Frightened by the menacing gestures of the two men, Oliverhastily swallowed the contents of the glass, and immediately fellinto a violent fit of coughing: which delighted Toby Crackit andBarney, and even drew a smile from the surly Mr. Sikes.

This done, and Sikes having satisfied his appetite (Oliver couldeat nothing but a small crust of bread which they made himswallow), the two men laid themselves down on chairs for a shortnap. Oliver retained his stool by the fire; Barney wrapped in ablanket, stretched himself on the floor: close outside thefender.

They slept, or appeared to sleep, for some time; nobody stirringbut Barney, who rose once or twice to throw coals on the fire. Oliver fell into a heavy doze: imagining himself straying alongthe gloomy lanes, or wandering about the dark churchyard, orretracing some one or other of the scenes of the past day: whenhe was roused by Toby Crackit jumping up and declaring it washalf-past one.

In an instant, the other two were on their legs, and all wereactively engaged in busy preparation. Sikes and his companionenveloped their necks and chins in large dark shawls, and drew ontheir great-coats; Barney, opening a cupboard, brought forthseveral articles, which he hastily crammed into the pockets.

'Barkers for me, Barney,' said Toby Crackit.

'Here they are,' replied Barney, producing a pair of pistols.'You loaded them yourself.'

'All right!' replied Toby, stowing them away. 'The persuaders?'

'I've got 'em,' replied Sikes.

'Crape, keys, centre-bits, darkies--nothing forgotten?' inquiredToby: fastening a small crowbar to a loop inside the skirt ofhis coat.

'All right,' rejoined his companion. 'Bring them bits of timber,Barney. That's the time of day.'

With these words, he took a thick stick from Barney's hands, who,having delivered another to Toby, busied himself in fastening onOliver's cape.

'Now then!' said Sikes, holding out his hand.

Oliver: who was completely stupified by the unwonted exercise,and the air, and the drink which had been forced upon him: puthis hand mechanically into that which Sikes extended for thepurpose.

'Take his other hand, Toby,' said Sikes. 'Look out, Barney.'

The man went to the door, and returned to announce that all wasquiet. The two robbers issued forth with Oliver between them. Barney, having made all fast, rolled himself up as before, andwas soon asleep again.

It was now intensely dark. The fog was much heavier than it hadbeen in the early part of the night; and the atmosphere was sodamp, that, although no rain fell, Oliver's hair and eyebrows,within a few minutes after leaving the house, had become stiffwith the half-frozen moisture that was floating about. Theycrossed the bridge, and kept on towards the lights which he hadseen before. They were at no great distance off; and, as theywalked pretty briskly, they soon arrived at Chertsey.

'Slap through the town,' whispered Sikes; 'there'll be nobody inthe way, to-night, to see us.'

Toby acquiesced; and they hurried through the main street of thelittle town, which at that late hour was wholly deserted. A dimlight shone at intervals from some bed-room window; and thehoarse barking of dogs occasionally broke the silence of thenight. But there was nobody abroad. They had cleared the town,as the church-bell struck two.

Quickening their pace, they turned up a road upon the left hand. After walking about a quarter of a mile, they stopped before adetached house surrounded by a wall: to the top of which, TobyCrackit, scarcely pausing to take breath, climbed in a twinkling.

'The boy next,' said Toby. 'Hoist him up; I'll catch hold ofhim.'

Before Oliver had time to look round, Sikes had caught him underthe arms; and in three or four seconds he and Toby were lying onthe grass on the other side. Sikes followed directly. And theystole cautiously towards the house.

And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief andterror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, werethe objects of the expedition. He clasped his hands together,and involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. Amist came before his eyes; the cold sweat stood upon his ashyface; his limbs failed him; and he sank upon his knees.

'Get up!' murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing thepistol from his pocket; 'Get up, or I'll strew your brains uponthe grass.'

'Oh! for God's sake let me go!' cried Oliver; 'let me run awayand die in the fields. I will never come near London; never,never! Oh! pray have mercy on me, and do not make me steal. Forthe love of all the bright Angels that rest in Heaven, have mercyupon me!'

The man to whom this appeal was made, swore a dreadful oath, andhad cocked the pistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp,placed his hand upon the boy's mouth, and dragged him to thehouse.

'Hush!' cried the man; 'it won't answer here. Say another word,and I'll do your business myself with a crack on the head. Thatmakes no noise, and is quite as certain, and more genteel. Here,Bill, wrench the shutter open. He's game enough now, I'llengage. I've seen older hands of his age took the same way, fora minute or two, on a cold night.'

Sikes, invoking terrific imprecations upon Fagin's head forsending Oliver on such an errand, plied the crowbar vigorously,but with little noise. After some delay, and some assistancefrom Toby, the shutter to which he had referred, swung open onits hinges.

It was a little lattice window, about five feet and a half abovethe ground, at the back of the house: which belonged to ascullery, or small brewing-place, at the end of the passage. Theaperture was so small, that the inmates had probably not thoughtit worth while to defend it more securely; but it was largeenough to admit a boy of Oliver's size, nevertheless. A verybrief exercise of Mr. Sike's art, sufficed to overcome thefastening of the lattice; and it soon stood wide open also.

'Now listen, you young limb,' whispered Sikes, drawing a darklantern from his pocket, and throwing the glare full on Oliver'sface; 'I'm a going to put you through there. Take this light; gosoftly up the steps straight afore you, and along the littlehall, to the street door; unfasten it, and let us in.'

'There's a bolt at the top, you won't be able to reach,'interposed Toby. 'Stand upon one of the hall chairs. There arethree there, Bill, with a jolly large blue unicorn and goldpitchfork on 'em: which is the old lady's arms.'

'Keep quiet, can't you?' replied Sikes, with a threatening look. 'The room-door is open, is it?'

'Wide,' repied Toby, after peeping in to satisfy himself. 'Thegame of that is, that they always leave it open with a catch, sothat the dog, who's got a bed in here, may walk up and down thepassage when he feels wakeful. Ha! ha! Barney 'ticed him awayto-night. So neat!'

Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, andlaughed without noise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to besilent, and to get to work. Toby complied, by first producinghis lantern, and placing it on the ground; then by plantinghimself firmly with his head against the wall beneath the window,and his hands upon his knees, so as to make a step of his back. This was no sooner done, than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oivergently through the window with his feet first; and, withoutleaving hold of his collar, planted him safely on the floorinside.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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