Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 28)

'The boy's name?' demanded the matron.

'They CALLED him Oliver,' replied the woman, feebly. 'The gold Istole was--'

'Yes, yes--what?' cried the other.

She was bending eagerly over the woman to hear her reply; butdrew back, instinctively, as she once again rose, slowly andstiffly, into a sitting posture; then, clutching the coverlidwith both hands, muttered some indistinct sounds in her throat,and fell lifeless on the bed.

* * * * * * *

'Stone dead!' said one of the old women, hurrying in as soon asthe door was opened.

'And nothing to tell, after all,' rejoined the matron, walkingcarelessly away.

The two crones, to all appearance, too busily occupied in thepreparations for their dreadful duties to make any reply, wereleft alone, hovering about the body.



While these things were passing in the country workhouse, Mr.Fagin sat in the old den--the same from which Oliver had beenremoved by the girl--brooding over a dull, smoky fire. He held apair of bellows upon his knee, with which he had apparently beenendeavouring to rouse it into more cheerful action; but he hadfallen into deep thought; and with his arms folded on them, andhis chin resting on his thumbs, fixed his eyes, abstractedly, onthe rusty bars.

At a table behind him sat the Artful Dodger, Master CharlesBates, and Mr. Chitling: all intent upon a game of whist; theArtful taking dummy against Master Bates and Mr. Chitling. Thecountenance of the first-named gentleman, peculiarly intelligentat all times, acquired great additional interest from his closeobservance of the game, and his attentive perusal of Mr.Chitling's hand; upon which, from time to time, as occasionserved, he bestowed a variety of earnest glances: wiselyregulating his own play by the result of his observations uponhis neighbour's cards. It being a cold night, the Dodger worehis hat, as, indeed, was often his custom within doors. He alsosustained a clay pipe between his teeth, which he only removedfor a brief space when he deemed it necessary to apply forrefreshment to a quart pot upon the table, which stood readyfilled with gin-and-water for the accommodation of the company.

Master Bates was also attentive to the play; but being of a moreexcitable nature than his accomplished friend, it was observablethat he more frequently applied himself to the gin-and-water, andmoreover indulged in many jests and irrelevant remarks, allhighly unbecoming a scientific rubber. Indeed, the Artful,presuming upon their close attachment, more than once tookoccasion to reason gravely with his companion upon theseimproprieties; all of which remonstrances, Master Bates receivedin extremely good part; merely requesting his friend to be'blowed,' or to insert his head in a sack, or replying with someother neatly-turned witticism of a similar kind, the happyapplication of which, excited considerable admiration in the mindof Mr. Chitling. It was remarkable that the latter gentleman andhis partner invariably lost; and that the circumstance, so farfrom angering Master Bates, appeared to afford him the highestamusement, inasmuch as he laughed most uproariously at the end ofevery deal, and protested that he had never seen such a jollygame in all his born days.

'That's two doubles and the rub,' said Mr. Chitling, with a verylong face, as he drew half-a-crown from his waistcoat-pocket. 'Inever see such a feller as you, Jack; you win everything. Evenwhen we've good cards, Charley and I can't make nothing of 'em.'

Either the master or the manner of this remark, which was madevery ruefully, delighted Charley Bates so much, that hisconsequent shout of laughter roused the Jew from his reverie, andinduced him to inquire what was the matter.

'Matter, Fagin!' cried Charley. 'I wish you had watched theplay. Tommy Chitling hasn't won a point; and I went partnerswith him against the Artfull and dumb.'

'Ay, ay!' said the Jew, with a grin, which sufficientlydemonstrated that he was at no loss to understand the reason.'Try 'em again, Tom; try 'em again.'

'No more of it for me, thank 'ee, Fagin,' replied Mr. Chitling; 'I've had enough. That 'ere Dodger has such a run of luck thatthere's no standing again' him.'

'Ha! ha! my dear,' replied the Jew, 'you must get up very earlyin the morning, to win against the Dodger.'

'Morning!' said Charley Bates; 'you must put your boots onover-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glassbetween your shoulders, if you want to come over him.'

Mr. Dawkins received these handsome compliments with muchphilosophy, and offered to cut any gentleman in company, for thefirst picture-card, at a shilling at a time. Nobody acceptingthe challenge, and his pipe being by this time smoked out, heproceeded to amuse himself by sketching a ground-plan of Newgateon the table with the piece of chalk which had served him in lieuof counters; whistling, meantime, with peculiar shrillness.

'How precious dull you are, Tommy!' said the Dodger, stoppingshort when there had been a long silence; and addressing Mr.Chitling. 'What do you think he's thinking of, Fagin?'

'How should I know, my dear?' replied the Jew, looking round ashe plied the bellows. 'About his losses, maybe; or the littleretirement in the country that he's just left, eh? Ha! ha! Isthat it, my dear?'

'Not a bit of it,' replied the Dodger, stopping the subject ofdiscourse as Mr. Chitling was about to reply. 'What do YOU say,Charley?'

'_I_ should say,' replied Master Bates, with a grin, 'that he wasuncommon sweet upon Betsy. See how he's a-blushing! Oh, my eye!here's a merry-go-rounder! Tommy Chitling's in love! Oh, Fagin,Fagin! what a spree!'

Thoroughly overpowered with the notion of Mr. Chitling being thevictim of the tender passion, Master Bates threw himself back inhis chair with such violence, that he lost his balance, andpitched over upon the floor; where (the accident abating nothingof his merriment) he lay at full length until his laugh was over,when he resumed his former position, and began another laugh.

'Never mind him, my dear,' said the Jew, winking at Mr. Dawkins,and giving Master Bates a reproving tap with the nozzle of thebellows. 'Betsy's a fine girl. Stick up to her, Tom. Stick upto her.'

'What I mean to say, Fagin,' replied Mr. Chitling, very red inthe face, 'is, that that isn't anything to anybody here.'

'No more it is,' replied the Jew; 'Charley will talk. Don't mindhim, my dear; don't mind him. Betsy's a fine girl. Do as shebids you, Tom, and you will make your fortune.'

'So I DO do as she bids me,' replied Mr. Chitling; 'I shouldn'thave been milled, if it hadn't been for her advice. But itturned out a good job for you; didn't it, Fagin! And what's sixweeks of it? It must come, some time or another, and why not inthe winter time when you don't want to go out a-walking so much;eh, Fagin?'

'Ah, to be sure, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'You wouldn't mind it again, Tom, would you,' asked the Dodger,winking upon Charley and the Jew, 'if Bet was all right?'

'I mean to say that I shouldn't,' replied Tom, angrily. 'There,now. Ah! Who'll say as much as that, I should like to know; eh,Fagin?'

'Nobody, my dear,' replied the Jew; 'not a soul, Tom. I don'tknow one of 'em that would do it besides you; not one of 'em, mydear.'

'I might have got clear off, if I'd split upon her; mightn't I,Fagin?' angrily pursued the poor half-witted dupe. 'A word fromme would have done it; wouldn't it, Fagin?'

'To be sure it would, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'But I didn't blab it; did I, Fagin?' demanded Tom, pouringquestion upon question with great volubility.

'No, no, to be sure,' replied the Jew; 'you were toostout-hearted for that. A deal too stout, my dear!'

'Perhaps I was,' rejoined Tom, looking round; 'and if I was,what's to laugh at, in that; eh, Fagin?'

The Jew, perceiving that Mr. Chitling was considerably roused,hastened to assure him that nobody was laughing; and to prove thegravity of the company, appealed to Master Bates, the principaloffender. But, unfortunately, Charley, in opening his mouth toreply that he was never more serious in his life, was unable toprevent the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr.Chitling, without any preliminary ceremonies, rushed across theroom and aimed a blow at the offender; who, being skilful inevading pursuit, ducked to avoid it, and chose his time so wellthat it lighted on the chest of the merry old gentleman, andcaused him to stagger to the wall, where he stood panting forbreath, while Mr. Chitling looked on in intense dismay.

'Hark!' cried the Dodger at this moment, 'I heard the tinkler.'Catching up the light, he crept softly upstairs.

The bell was rung again, with some impatience, while the partywere in darkness. After a short pause, the Dodger reappeared,and whispered Fagin mysteriously.

'What!' cried the Jew, 'alone?'

The Dodger nodded in the affirmative, and, shading the flame ofthe candle with his hand, gave Charley Bates a privateintimation, in dumb show, that he had better not be funny justthen. Having performed this friendly office, he fixed his eyeson the Jew's face, and awaited his directions.

The old man bit his yellow fingers, and meditated for someseconds; his face working with agitation the while, as if hedreaded something, and feared to know the worst. At length heraised his head.

'Where is he?' he asked.

The Dodger pointed to the floor above, and made a gesture, as ifto leave the room.

'Yes,' said the Jew, answering the mute inquiry; 'bring him down.

Hush! Quiet, Charley! Gently, Tom! Scarce, scarce!'

This brief direction to Charley Bates, and his recent antagonist,was softly and immediately obeyed. There was no sound of theirwhereabout, when the Dodger descended the stairs, bearing thelight in his hand, and followed by a man in a coarse smock-frock;who, after casting a hurried glance round the room, pulled off alarge wrapper which had concealed the lower portion of his face,and disclosed: all haggard, unwashed, and unshorn: the featuresof flash Toby Crackit.

'How are you, Faguey?' said this worthy, nodding to the Jew. 'Popthat shawl away in my castor, Dodger, so that I may know where tofind it when I cut; that's the time of day! You'll be a fineyoung cracksman afore the old file now.'

With these words he pulled up the smock-frock; and, winding itround his middle, drew a chair to the fire, and placed his feetupon the hob.

'See there, Faguey,' he said, pointing disconsolately to his topboots; 'not a drop of Day and Martin since you know when; not abubble of blacking, by Jove! But don't look at me in that way,man. All in good time. I can't talk about business till I'veeat and drank; so produce the sustainance, and let's have a quietfill-out for the first time these three days!'

The Jew motioned to the Dodger to place what eatables there were,upon the table; and, seating himself opposite the housebreaker,waited his leisure.

To judge from appearances, Toby was by no means in a hurry toopen the conversation. At first, the Jew contented himself withpatiently watching his countenance, as if to gain from itsexpression some clue to the intelligence he brought; but in vain.

He looked tired and worn, but there was the same complacentrepose upon his features that they always wore: and throughdirt, and beard, and whisker, there still shone, unimpaired, theself-satisfied smirk of flash Toby Crackit. Then the Jew, in anagony of impatience, watched every morsel he put into his mouth;pacing up and down the room, meanwhile, in irrepressibleexcitement. It was all of no use. Toby continued to eat withthe utmost outward indifference, until he could eat no more;then, ordering the Dodger out, he closed the door, mixed a glassof spirits and water, and composed himself for talking.

'First and foremost, Faguey,' said Toby.

'Yes, yes!' interposed the Jew, drawing up his chair.

Mr. Crackit stopped to take a draught of spirits and water, andto declare that the gin was excellent; then placing his feetagainst the low mantelpiece, so as to bring his boots to aboutthe level of his eye, he quietly resumed.

'First and foremost, Faguey,' said the housebreaker, 'how'sBill?'

'What!' screamed the Jew, starting from his seat.

'Why, you don't mean to say--' began Toby, turning pale.

'Mean!' cried the Jew, stamping furiously on the ground. 'Whereare they? Sikes and the boy! Where are they? Where have theybeen? Where are they hiding? Why have they not been here?'

'The crack failed,' said Toby faintly.

'I know it,' replied the Jew, tearing a newspaper from his pocketand pointing to it. 'What more?'

'They fired and hit the boy. We cut over the fields at the back,with him between us--straight as the crow flies--through hedgeand ditch. They gave chase. Damme! the whole country was awake,and the dogs upon us.'

'The boy!'

'Bill had him on his back, and scudded like the wind. We stoppedto take him between us; his head hung down, and he was cold. They were close upon our heels; every man for himself, and eachfrom the gallows! We parted company, and left the youngsterlying in a ditch. Alive or dead, that's all I know about him.'

The Jew stopped to hear no more; but uttering a loud yell, andtwining his hands in his hair, rushed from the room, and from thehouse.



Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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