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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 53)


'Like enough.'

'I'll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, ifshe's took that way again,' said Sikes.

Fagin nodded an expressive approval of this mode of treatment.

'She was hanging about me all day, and night too, when I wasstretched on my back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as youare, kept yourself aloof,' said Sikes. 'We was poor too, all thetime, and I think, one way or other, it's worried and frettedher; and that being shut up here so long has made herrestless--eh?'

'That's it, my dear,' replied the Jew in a whisper. 'Hush!'

As he uttered these words, the girl herself appeared and resumedher former seat. Her eyes were swollen and red; she rockedherself to and fro; tossed her head; and, after a little time,burst out laughing.

'Why, now she's on the other tack!' exclaimed Sikes, turning alook of excessive surprise on his companion.

Fagin nodded to him to take no further notice just then; and, ina few minutes, the girl subsided into her accustomed demeanour. Whispering Sikes that there was no fear of her relapsing, Fagintook up his hat and bade him good-night. He paused when hereached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebody wouldlight him down the dark stairs.

'Light him down,' said Sikes, who was filling his pipe. 'It's apity he should break his neck himself, and disappoint thesight-seers. Show him a light.'

Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle. When theyreached the passage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawingclose to the girl, said, in a whisper.

'What is it, Nancy, dear?'

'What do you mean?' replied the girl, in the same tone.

'The reason of all this,' replied Fagin. 'If HE'--he pointedwith his skinny fore-finger up the stairs--'is so hard with you(he's a brute, Nance, a brute-beast), why don't you--'

'Well?' said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almosttouching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers.

'No matter just now. We'll talk of this again. You have afriend in me, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand,quiet and close. If you want revenge on those that treat youlike a dog--like a dog! worse than his dog, for he humours himsometimes--come to me. I say, come to me. He is the mere houndof a day, but you know me of old, Nance.'

'I know you well,' replied the girls, without manifesting theleast emotion. 'Good-night.'

She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, butsaid good-night again, in a steady voice, and, answering hisparting look with a nod of intelligence, closed the door betweenthem.

Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that wereworking within his brain. He had conceived the idea--not fromwhat had just passed though that had tended to confirm him, butslowly and by degrees--that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker'sbrutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend. Heraltered manner, her repeated absences from home alone, hercomparative indifference to the interests of the gang for whichshe had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperateimpatience to leave home that night at a particular hour, allfavoured the supposition, and rendered it, to him at least,almost matter of certainty. The object of this new liking wasnot among his myrmidons. He would be a valuable acquisition withsuch an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) besecured without delay.

There was another, and a darker object, to be gained. Sikes knewtoo much, and his ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less,because the wounds were hidden. The girl must know, well, thatif she shook him off, she could never be safe from his fury, andthat it would be surely wreaked--to the maiming of limbs, orperhaps the loss of life--on the object of her more recent fancy.

'With a little persuasion,' thought Fagin, 'what more likely thanthat she would consent to poison him? Women have done suchthings, and worse, to secure the same object before now. Therewould be the dangerous villain: the man I hate: gone; anothersecured in his place; and my influence over the girl, with aknowledge of this crime to back it, unlimited.'

These things passed through the mind of Fagin, during the shorttime he sat alone, in the housebreaker's room; and with themuppermost in his thoughts, he had taken the opportunityafterwards afforded him, of sounding the girl in the broken hintshe threw out at parting. There was no expression of surprise, noassumption of an inability to understand his meaning. The girlclearly comprehended it. Her glance at parting showed THAT.

But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life ofSikes, and that was one of the chief ends to be attained. 'How,'thought Fagin, as he crept homeward, 'can I increase my influencewith her? what new power can I acquire?'

Such brains are fertile in expedients. If, without extracting aconfession from herself, he laid a watch, discovered the objectof her altered regard, and threatened to reveal the whole historyto Sikes (of whom she stood in no common fear) unless she enteredinto his designs, could he not secure her compliance?

'I can,' said Fagin, almost aloud. 'She durst not refuse methen. Not for her life, not for her life! I have it all. Themeans are ready, and shall be set to work. I shall have youyet!'

He cast back a dark look, and a threatening motion of the hand,towards the spot where he had left the bolder villian; and wenton his way: busying his bony hands in the folds of his tatteredgarment, which he wrenched tightly in his grasp, as though therewere a hated enemy crushed with every motion of his fingers.

CHAPTER XLV

NOAH CLAYPOLE IS EMPLOYED BY FAGIN ON A SECRET MISSION

The old man was up, betimes, next morning, and waited impatientlyfor the appearance of his new associate, who after a delay thatseemed interminable, at length presented himself, and commenced avoracious assault on the breakfast.

'Bolter,' said Fagin, drawing up a chair and seating himselfopposite Morris Bolter.

'Well, here I am,' returned Noah. 'What's the matter? Don't yerask me to do anything till I have done eating. That's a greatfault in this place. Yer never get time enough over yer meals.'

'You can talk as you eat, can't you?' said Fagin, cursing hisdear young friend's greediness from the very bottom of his heart.

'Oh yes, I can talk. I get on better when I talk,' said Noah,cutting a monstrous slice of bread. 'Where's Charlotte?'

'Out,' said Fagin. 'I sent her out this morning with the otheryoung woman, because I wanted us to be alone.'

'Oh!' said Noah. 'I wish yer'd ordered her to make some butteredtoast first. Well. Talk away. Yer won't interrupt me.'

There seemed, indeed, no great fear of anything interrupting him,as he had evidently sat down with a determination to do a greatdeal of business.

'You did well yesterday, my dear,' said Fagin. 'Beautiful! Sixshillings and ninepence halfpenny on the very first day! Thekinchin lay will be a fortune to you.'

'Don't you forget to add three pint-pots and a milk-can,' saidMr. Bolter.

'No, no, my dear. The pint-pots were great strokes of genius: but the milk-can was a perfect masterpiece.'

'Pretty well, I think, for a beginner,' remarked Mr. Boltercomplacently. 'The pots I took off airy railings, and themilk-can was standing by itself outside a public-house. Ithought it might get rusty with the rain, or catch cold, yerknow. Eh? Ha! ha! ha!'

Fagin affected to laugh very heartily; and Mr. Bolter having hadhis laugh out, took a series of large bites, which finished hisfirst hunk of bread and butter, and assisted himself to a second.

'I want you, Bolter,' said Fagin, leaning over the table, 'to doa piece of work for me, my dear, that needs great care andcaution.'

'I say,' rejoined Bolter, 'don't yer go shoving me into danger,or sending me any more o' yer police-offices. That don't suit me,that don't; and so I tell yer.'

'That's not the smallest danger in it--not the very smallest,'said the Jew; 'it's only to dodge a woman.'

'An old woman?' demanded Mr. Bolter.

'A young one,' replied Fagin.

'I can do that pretty well, I know,' said Bolter. 'I was aregular cunning sneak when I was at school. What am I to dodgeher for? Not to--'

'Not to do anything, but to tell me where she goes, who she sees,and, if possible, what she says; to remember the street, if it isa street, or the house, if it is a house; and to bring me backall the information you can.'

'What'll yer give me?' asked Noah, setting down his cup, andlooking his employer, eagerly, in the face.

'If you do it well, a pound, my dear. One pound,' said Fagin,wishing to interest him in the scent as much as possible. 'Andthat's what I never gave yet, for any job of work where therewasn't valuable consideration to be gained.'

'Who is she?' inquired Noah.

'One of us.'

'Oh Lor!' cried Noah, curling up his nose. 'Yer doubtful of her,are yer?'

'She had found out some new friends, my dear, and I must know whothey are,' replied Fagin.

'I see,' said Noah. 'Just to have the pleasure of knowing them,if they're respectable people, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I'm your man.'

'I knew you would be,' cried Fagin, eleated by the success of hisproposal.

'Of course, of course,' replied Noah. 'Where is she? Where am Ito wait for her? Where am I to go?'

'All that, my dear, you shall hear from me. I'll point her outat the proper time,' said Fagin. 'You keep ready, and leave therest to me.'

That night, and the next, and the next again, the spy sat bootedand equipped in his carter's dress: ready to turn out at a wordfrom Fagin. Six nights passed--six long weary nights--and oneach, Fagin came home with a disappointed face, and brieflyintimated that it was not yet time. On the seventh, he returnedearlier, and with an exultation he could not conceal. It wasSunday.

'She goes abroad to-night,' said Fagin, 'and on the right errand,I'm sure; for she has been alone all day, and the man she isafraid of will not be back much before daybreak. Come with me. Quick!'

Noah started up without saying a word; for the Jew was in a stateof such intense excitement that it infected him. They left thehouse stealthily, and hurrying through a labyrinth of streets,arrived at length before a public-house, which Noah recognised asthe same in which he had slept, on the night of his arrival inLondon.

It was past eleven o'clock, and the door was closed. It openedsoftly on its hinges as Fagin gave a low whistle. They entered,without noise; and the door was closed behind them.

Scarcely venturing to whisper, but substituting dumb show forwords, Fagin, and the young Jew who had admitted them, pointedout the pane of glass to Noah, and signed to him to climb up andobserve the person in the adjoining room.

'Is that the woman?' he asked, scarcely above his breath.

Fagin nodded yes.

'I can't see her face well,' whispered Noah. 'She is lookingdown, and the candle is behind her.

'Stay there,' whispered Fagin. He signed to Barney, whowithdrew. In an instant, the lad entered the room adjoining,and, under pretence of snuffing the candle, moved it in therequired position, and, speaking to the girl, caused her to raiseher face.

'I see her now,' cried the spy.

'Plainly?'

'I should know her among a thousand.'

He hastily descended, as the room-door opened, and the girl cameout. Fagin drew him behind a small partition which was curtainedoff, and they held their breaths as she passed within a few feetof their place of concealment, and emerged by the door at whichthey had entered.

'Hist!' cried the lad who held the door. 'Dow.'

Noah exchanged a look with Fagin, and darted out.

'To the left,' whispered the lad; 'take the left had, and keep odthe other side.'

He did so; and, by the light of the lamps, saw the girl'sretreating figure, already at some distance before him. Headvanced as near as he considered prudent, and kept on theopposite side of the street, the better to observe her motions. She looked nervously round, twice or thrice, and once stopped tolet two men who were following close behind her, pass on. Sheseemed to gather courage as she advanced, and to walk with asteadier and firmer step. The spy preserved the same relativedistance between them, and followed: with his eye upon her.

CHAPTER XLVI

THE APPOINTMENT KEPT

The church clocks chimed three quarters past eleven, as twofigures emerged on London Bridge. One, which advanced with aswift and rapid step, was that of a woman who looked eagerlyabout her as though in quest of some expected object; the otherfigure was that of a man, who slunk along in the deepest shadowhe could find, and, at some distance, accommodated his pace tohers: stopping when she stopped: and as she moved again,creeping stealthily on: but never allowing himself, in theardour of his pursuit, to gain upon her footsteps. Thus, theycrossed the bridge, from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, whenthe woman, apparently disappointed in her anxious scrutiny of thefoot-passengers, turned back. The movement was sudden; but hewho watched her, was not thrown off his guard by it; for,shrinking into one of the recesses which surmount the piers ofthe bridge, and leaning over the parapet the better to concealhis figure, he suffered her to pass on the opposite pavement. When she was about the same distance in advance as she had beenbefore, he slipped quietly down, and followed her again. Atnearly the centre of the bridge, she stopped. The man stoppedtoo.

It was a very dark night. The day had been unfavourable, and atthat hour and place there were few people stirring. Such as therewere, hurried quickly past: very possibly without seeing, butcertainly without noticing, either the woman, or the man who kepther in view. Their appearance was not calculated to attract theimportunate regards of such of London's destitute population, aschanced to take their way over the bridge that night in search ofsome cold arch or doorless hovel wherein to lay their heads; theystood there in silence: neither speaking nor spoken to, by anyone who passed.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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