Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 51)

'Ha! ha!' cried Mr. Bolter. 'Number one for ever.'

'In a little community like ours, my dear,' said Fagin, who feltit necessary to qualify this position, 'we have a general numberone, without considering me too as the same, and all the otheryoung people.'

'Oh, the devil!' exclaimed Mr. Bolter.

'You see,' pursued Fagin, affecting to disregard thisinterruption, 'we are so mixed up together, and identified in ourinterests, that it must be so. For instance, it's your object totake care of number one--meaning yourself.'

'Certainly,' replied Mr. Bolter. 'Yer about right there.'

'Well! You can't take care of yourself, number one, withouttaking care of me, number one.'

'Number two, you mean,' said Mr. Bolter, who was largely endowedwith the quality of selfishness.

'No, I don't!' retorted Fagin. 'I'm of the same importance toyou, as you are to yourself.'

'I say,' interrupted Mr. Bolter, 'yer a very nice man, and I'mvery fond of yer; but we ain't quite so thick together, as allthat comes to.'

'Only think,' said Fagin, shrugging his shoulders, and stretchingout his hands; 'only consider. You've done what's a very prettything, and what I love you for doing; but what at the same timewould put the cravat round your throat, that's so very easilytied and so very difficult to unloose--in plain English, thehalter!'

Mr. Bolter put his hand to his neckerchief, as if he felt itinconveniently tight; and murmured an assent, qualified in tonebut not in substance.

'The gallows,' continued Fagin, 'the gallows, my dear, is an uglyfinger-post, which points out a very short and sharp turning thathas stopped many a bold fellow's career on the broad highway. Tokeep in the easy road, and keep it at a distance, is objectnumber one with you.'

'Of course it is,' replied Mr. Bolter. 'What do yer talk aboutsuch things for?'

'Only to show you my meaning clearly,' said the Jew, raising hiseyebrows. 'To be able to do that, you depend upon me. To keep mylittle business all snug, I depend upon you. The first is yournumber one, the second my number one. The more you value yournumber one, the more careful you must be of mine; so we come atlast to what I told you at first--that a regard for number oneholds us all together, and must do so, unless we would all go topieces in company.'

'That's true,' rejoined Mr. Bolter, thoughtfully. 'Oh! yer acunning old codger!'

Mr. Fagin saw, with delight, that this tribute to his powers wasno mere compliment, but that he had really impressed his recruitwith a sense of his wily genius, which it was most important thathe should entertain in the outset of their acquaintance. Tostrengthen an impression so desirable and useful, he followed upthe blow by acquainting him, in some detail, with the magnitudeand extent of his operations; blending truth and fictiontogether, as best served his purpose; and bringing both to bear,with so much art, that Mr. Bolter's respect visibly increased,and became tempered, at the same time, with a degree of wholesomefear, which it was highly desirable to awaken.

'It's this mutual trust we have in each other that consoles meunder heavy losses,' said Fagin. 'My best hand was taken fromme, yesterday morning.'

'You don't mean to say he died?' cried Mr. Bolter.

'No, no,' replied Fagin, 'not so bad as that. Not quite so bad.'

'What, I suppose he was--'

'Wanted,' interposed Fagin. 'Yes, he was wanted.'

'Very particular?' inquired Mr. Bolter.

'No,' replied Fagin, 'not very. He was charged with attemptingto pick a pocket, and they found a silver snuff-box on him,--hisown, my dear, his own, for he took snuff himself, and was veryfond of it. They remanded him till to-day, for they thought theyknew the owner. Ah! he was worth fifty boxes, and I'd give theprice of as many to have him back. You should have known theDodger, my dear; you should have known the Dodger.'

'Well, but I shall know him, I hope; don't yer think so?' saidMr. Bolter.

'I'm doubtful about it,' replied Fagin, with a sigh. 'If theydon't get any fresh evidence, it'll only be a summary conviction,and we shall have him back again after six weeks or so; but, ifthey do, it's a case of lagging. They know what a clever lad heis; he'll be a lifer. They'll make the Artful nothing less thana lifer.'

'What do you mean by lagging and a lifer?' demanded Mr. Bolter. 'What's the good of talking in that way to me; why don't yerspeak so as I can understand yer?'

Fagin was about to translate these mysterious expressions intothe vulgar tongue; and, being interpreted, Mr. Bolter would havebeen informed that they represented that combination of words,'transportation for life,' when the dialogue was cut short by theentry of Master Bates, with his hands in his breeches-pockets,and his face twisted into a look of semi-comical woe.

'It's all up, Fagin,' said Charley, when he and his new companionhad been made known to each other.

'What do you mean?'

'They've found the gentleman as owns the box; two or three more'sa coming to 'dentify him; and the Artful's booked for a passageout,' replied Master Bates. 'I must have a full suit ofmourning, Fagin, and a hatband, to wisit him in, afore he setsout upon his travels. To think of Jack Dawkins--lummy Jack--theDodger--the Artful Dodger--going abroad for a commontwopenny-halfpenny sneeze-box! I never thought he'd a done itunder a gold watch, chain, and seals, at the lowest. Oh, whydidn't he rob some rich old gentleman of all his walables, and goout as a gentleman, and not like a common prig, without no honournor glory!'

With this expression of feeling for his unfortunate friend,Master Bates sat himself on the nearest chair with an aspect ofchagrin and despondency.

'What do you talk about his having neither honour nor glory for!'exclaimed Fagin, darting an angry look at his pupil. 'Wasn't healways the top-sawyer among you all! Is there one of you thatcould touch him or come near him on any scent! Eh?'

'Not one,' replied Master Bates, in a voice rendered husky byregret; 'not one.'

'Then what do you talk of?' replied Fagin angrily; 'what are youblubbering for?'

''Cause it isn't on the rec-ord, is it?' said Charley, chafedinto perfect defiance of his venerable friend by the current ofhis regrets; ''cause it can't come out in the 'dictment; 'causenobody will never know half of what he was. How will he stand inthe Newgate Calendar? P'raps not be there at all. Oh, my eye,my eye, wot a blow it is!'

'Ha! ha!' cried Fagin, extending his right hand, and turning toMr. Bolter in a fit of chuckling which shook him as though he hadthe palsy; 'see what a pride they take in their profession, mydear. Ain't it beautiful?'

Mr. Bolter nodded assent, and Fagin, after contemplating thegrief of Charley Bates for some seconds with evidentsatisfaction, stepped up to that young gentleman and patted himon the shoulder.

'Never mind, Charley,' said Fagin soothingly; 'it'll come out,it'll be sure to come out. They'll all know what a clever fellowhe was; he'll show it himself, and not disgrace his old pals andteachers. Think how young he is too! What a distinction,Charley, to be lagged at his time of life!'

'Well, it is a honour that is!' said Charley, a little consoled.

'He shall have all he wants,' continued the Jew. 'He shall bekept in the Stone Jug, Charley, like a gentleman. Like agentleman! With his beer every day, and money in his pocket topitch and toss with, if he can't spend it.'

'No, shall he though?' cried Charley Bates.

'Ay, that he shall,' replied Fagin, 'and we'll have a big-wig,Charley: one that's got the greatest gift of the gab: to carryon his defence; and he shall make a speech for himself too, if helikes; and we'll read it all in the papers--"ArtfulDodger--shrieks of laughter--here the court was convulsed"--eh,Charley, eh?'

'Ha! ha! laughed Master Bates, 'what a lark that would be,wouldn't it, Fagin? I say, how the Artful would bother 'emwouldn't he?'

'Would!' cried Fagin. 'He shall--he will!'

'Ah, to be sure, so he will,' repeated Charley, rubbing hishands.

'I think I see him now,' cried the Jew, bending his eyes upon hispupil.

'So do I,' cried Charley Bates. 'Ha! ha! ha! so do I. I see itall afore me, upon my soul I do, Fagin. What a game! What aregular game! All the big-wigs trying to look solemn, and JackDawkins addressing of 'em as intimate and comfortable as if hewas the judge's own son making a speech arter dinner--ha! ha!ha!'

In fact, Mr. Fagin had so well humoured his young friend'seccentric disposition, that Master Bates, who had at first beendisposed to consider the imprisoned Dodger rather in the light ofa victim, now looked upon him as the chief actor in a scene ofmost uncommon and exquisite humour, and felt quite impatient forthe arrival of the time when his old companion should have sofavourable an opportunity of displaying his abilities.

'We must know how he gets on to-day, by some handy means orother,' said Fagin. 'Let me think.'

'Shall I go?' asked Charley.

'Not for the world,' replied Fagin. 'Are you mad, my dear, starkmad, that you'd walk into the very place where--No, Charley, no. One is enough to lose at a time.'

'You don't mean to go yourself, I suppose?' said Charley with ahumorous leer.

'That wouldn't quite fit,' replied Fagin shaking his head.

'Then why don't you send this new cove?' asked Master Bates,laying his hand on Noah's arm. 'Nobody knows him.'

'Why, if he didn't mind--' observed Fagin.

'Mind!' interposed Charley. 'What should he have to mind?'

'Really nothing, my dear,' said Fagin, turning to Mr. Bolter,'really nothing.'

'Oh, I dare say about that, yer know,' observed Noah, backingtowards the door, and shaking his head with a kind of soberalarm. 'No, no--none of that. It's not in my department, thatain't.'

'Wot department has he got, Fagin?' inquired Master Bates,surveying Noah's lank form with much disgust. 'The cutting awaywhen there's anything wrong, and the eating all the wittles whenthere's everything right; is that his branch?'

'Never mind,' retorted Mr. Bolter; 'and don't yer take libertieswith yer superiors, little boy, or yer'll find yerself in thewrong shop.'

Master Bates laughed so vehemently at this magnificent threat,that it was some time before Fagin could interpose, and representto Mr. Bolter that he incurred no possible danger in visiting thepolice-office; that, inasmuch as no account of the little affairin which he had engaged, nor any description of his person, hadyet been forwarded to the metropolis, it was very probable thathe was not even suspected of having resorted to it for shelter;and that, if he were properly disguised, it would be as safe aspot for him to visit as any in London, inasmuch as it would be,of all places, the very last, to which he could be supposedlikely to resort of his own free will.

Persuaded, in part, by these representations, but overborne in amuch greater degree by his fear of Fagin, Mr. Bolter at lengthconsented, with a very bad grace, to undertake the expedition. By Fagin's directions, he immediately substituted for his ownattire, a waggoner's frock, velveteen breeches, and leatherleggings: all of which articles the Jew had at hand. He waslikewise furnished with a felt hat well garnished with turnpiketickets; and a carter's whip. Thus equipped, he was to saunterinto the office, as some country fellow from Covent Garden marketmight be supposed to do for the gratification of his curiousity;and as he was as awkward, ungainly, and raw-boned a fellow asneed be, Mr. Fagin had no fear but that he would look the part toperfection.

These arrangements completed, he was informed of the necessarysigns and tokens by which to recognise the Artful Dodger, and wasconveyed by Master Bates through dark and winding ways to withina very short distance of Bow Street. Having described the precisesituation of the office, and accompanied it with copiousdirections how he was to walk straight up the passage, and whenhe got into the side, and pull off his hat as he went into theroom, Charley Bates bade him hurry on alone, and promised to bidehis return on the spot of their parting.

Noah Claypole, or Morris Bolter as the reader pleases, punctuallyfollowed the directions he had received, which--Master Batesbeing pretty well acquainted with the locality--were so exactthat he was enabled to gain the magisterial presence withoutasking any question, or meeting with any interruption by the way.

He found himself jostled among a crowd of people, chiefly women,who were huddled together in a dirty frowsy room, at the upperend of which was a raised platform railed off from the rest, witha dock for the prisoners on the left hand against the wall, a boxfor the witnesses in the middle, and a desk for the magistrateson the right; the awful locality last named, being screened offby a partition which concealed the bench from the common gaze,and left the vulgar to imagine (if they could) the full majestyof justice.

There were only a couple of women in the dock, who were noddingto their admiring friends, while the clerk read some depositionsto a couple of policemen and a man in plain clothes who leantover the table. A jailer stood reclining against the dock-rail,tapping his nose listlessly with a large key, except when herepressed an undue tendency to conversation among the idlers, byproclaiming silence; or looked sternly up to bid some woman 'Takethat baby out,' when the gravity of justice was disturbed byfeeble cries, half-smothered in the mother's shawl, from somemeagre infant. The room smelt close and unwholesome; the wallswere dirt-discoloured; and the ceiling blackened. There was anold smoky bust over the mantel-shelf, and a dusty clock above thedock--the only thing present, that seemed to go on as it ought;for depravity, or poverty, or an habitual acquaintance with both,had left a taint on all the animate matter, hardly lessunpleasant than the thick greasy scum on every inaminate objectthat frowned upon it.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 147180 times


Page generation 0.001 seconds