Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 9)

In fact, if it had not been for a good-hearted turnpike-man, anda benevolent old lady, Oliver's troubles would have beenshortened by the very same process which had put an end to hismother's; in other words, he would most assuredly have fallendead upon the king's highway. But the turnpike-man gave him ameal of bread and cheese; and the old lady, who had a shipwreckedgrandson wandering barefoot in some distant part of the earth,took pity upon the poor orphan, and gave him what little shecould afford--and more--with such kind and gently words, and suchtears of sympathy and compassion, that they sank deeper intoOliver's soul, than all the sufferings he had ever undergone.

Early on the seventh morning after he had left his native place,Oliver limped slowly into the little town of Barnet. Thewindow-shutters were closed; the street was empty; not a soul hadawakened to the business of the day. The sun was rising in allits splendid beauty; but the light only served to show the boyhis own lonesomeness and desolation, as he sat, with bleedingfeet and covered with dust, upon a door-step.

By degrees, the shutters were opened; the window-blinds weredrawn up; and people began passing to and fro. Some few stoppedto gaze at Oliver for a moment or two, or turned round to stareat him as they hurried by; but none relieved him, or troubledthemselves to inquire how he came there. He had no heart to beg. And there he sat.

He had been crouching on the step for some time: wondering atthe great number of public-houses (every other house in Barnetwas a tavern, large or small), gazing listlessly at the coachesas they passed through, and thinking how strange it seemed thatthey could do, with ease, in a few hours, what it had taken him awhole week of courage and determination beyond his years toaccomplish: when he was roused by observing that a boy, who hadpassed him carelessly some minutes before, had returned, and wasnow surveying him most earnestly from the opposite side of theway. He took little heed of this at first; but the boy remainedin the same attitude of close observation so long, that Oliverraised his head, and returned his steady look. Upon this, theboy crossed over; and walking close up to Oliver, said

'Hullo, my covey! What's the row?'

The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer, wasabout his own age: but one of the queerest looking boys thatOliver had even seen. He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed,common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one wouldwish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of aman. He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little,sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head solightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment--and wouldhave done so, very often, if the wearer had not had a knack ofevery now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, which broughtit back to its old place again. He wore a man's coat, whichreached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back,half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves:apparently with the ultimated view of thrusting them into thepockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he kept them. Hewas, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentlemanas ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.

'Hullo, my covey! What's the row?' said this strange younggentleman to Oliver.

'I am very hungry and tired,' replied Oliver: the tears standingin his eyes as he spoke. 'I have walked a long way. I have beenwalking these seven days.'

'Walking for sivin days!' said the young gentleman. 'Oh, I see. Beak's order, eh? But,' he added, noticing Oliver's look ofsurprise, 'I suppose you don't know what a beak is, my flashcom-pan-i-on.'

Oliver mildly replied, that he had always heard a bird's mouthdescribed by the term in question.

'My eyes, how green!' exclaimed the young gentleman. 'Why, abeak's a madgst'rate; and when you walk by a beak's order, it'snot straight forerd, but always agoing up, and niver a comingdown agin. Was you never on the mill?'

'What mill?' inquired Oliver.

'What mill! Why, THE mill--the mill as takes up so little roomthat it'll work inside a Stone Jug; and always goes better whenthe wind's low with people, than when it's high; acos then theycan't get workmen. But come,' said the young gentleman; 'youwant grub, and you shall have it. I'm at low-water-markmyself--only one bob and a magpie; but, as far as it goes, I'llfork out and stump. Up with you on your pins. There! Now then!


Assisting Oliver to rise, the young gentleman took him to anadjacent chandler's shop, where he purchased a sufficiency ofready-dressed ham and a half-quartern loaf, or, as he himselfexpressed it, 'a fourpenny bran!' the ham being kept clean andpreserved from dust, by the ingenious expedient of making a holein the loaf by pulling out a portion of the crumb, and stuffingit therein. Taking the bread under his arm, the young gentlmanturned into a small public-house, and led the way to a tap-roomin the rear of the premises. Here, a pot of beer was brought in,by direction of the mysterious youth; and Oliver, falling to, athis new friend's bidding, made a long and hearty meal, during theprogress of which the strange boy eyed him from time to time withgreat attention.

'Going to London?' said the strange boy, when Oliver had atlength concluded.


'Got any lodgings?'




The strange boy whistled; and put his arms into his pockets, asfar as the big coat-sleeves would let them go.

'Do you live in London?' inquired Oliver.

'Yes. I do, when I'm at home,' replied the boy. 'I suppose youwant some place to sleep in to-night, don't you?'

'I do, indeed,' answered Oliver. 'I have not slept under a roofsince I left the country.'

'Don't fret your eyelids on that score.' said the younggentleman. 'I've got to be in London to-night; and I know a'spectable old gentleman as lives there, wot'll give you lodgingsfor nothink, and never ask for the change--that is, if anygenelman he knows interduces you. And don't he know me? Oh, no!

Not in the least! By no means. Certainly not!'

The young gentelman smiled, as if to intimate that the latterfragments of discourse were playfully ironical; and finished thebeer as he did so.

This unexpected offer of shelter was too tempting to be resisted;especially as it was immediately followed up, by the assurancethat the old gentleman referred to, would doubtless provideOliver with a comfortable place, without loss of time. This ledto a more friendly and confidential dialogue; from which Oliverdiscovered that his friend's name was Jack Dawkins, and that hewas a peculiar pet and protege of the elderly gentleman beforementioned.

Mr. Dawkin's appearance did not say a vast deal in favour of thecomforts which his patron's interest obtained for those whom hetook under his protection; but, as he had a rather flightly anddissolute mode of conversing, and furthermore avowed that amonghis intimate friends he was better known by the sobriquet of 'TheArtful Dodger,' Oliver concluded that, being of a dissipated andcareless turn, the moral precepts of his benefactor had hithertobeen thrown away upon him. Under this impression, he secretlyresolved to cultivate the good opinion of the old gentleman asquickly as possible; and, if he found the Dodger incorrigible, ashe more than half suspected he should, to decline the honour ofhis farther acquaintance.

As John Dawkins objected to their entering London beforenightfall, it was nearly eleven o'clock when they reached theturnpike at Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St.John's Road; struck down the small street which terminates atSadler's Wells Theatre; through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row;down the little court by the side of the workhouse; across theclassic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-Hole;thence into Little Saffron Hill; and so into Saffron Hill theGreat: along which the Dodger scudded at a rapid pace, directingOliver to follow close at his heels.

Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keepingsight of his leader, he could not help bestowing a few hastyglances on either side of the way, as he passed along. A dirtieror more wretched place he had never seen. The street was verynarrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours.

There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in tradeappeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time ofnight, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming fromthe inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid thegeneral blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them,the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from themain street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken menand women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several ofthe door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiouslyemerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed orharmless errands.

Oliver was just considering whether he hadn't better run away,when they reached the bottom of the hill. His conductor,catching him by the arm, pushed open the door of a house nearField Lane; and drawing him into the passage, closed it behindthem.

'Now, then!' cried a voice from below, in reply to a whistle fromthe Dodger.

'Plummy and slam!' was the reply.

This seemed to be some watchword or signal that all was right;for the light of a feeble candle gleamed on the wall at theremote end of the passage; and a man's face peeped out, fromwhere a balustrade of the old kitchen staircase had been brokenaway.

'There's two on you,' said the man, thrusting the candle fartherout, and shielding his eyes with his hand. 'Who's the t'otherone?'

'A new pal,' replied Jack Dawkins, pulling Oliver forward.

'Where did he come from?'

'Greenland. Is Fagin upstairs?'

'Yes, he's a sortin' the wipes. Up with you!' The candle wasdrawn back, and the face disappeared.

Oliver, groping his way with one hand, and having the otherfirmly grasped by his companion, ascended with much difficultythe dark and broken stairs: which his conductor mounted with anease and expedition that showed he was well acquainted with them.

He threw open the door of a back-room, and drew Oliver in afterhim.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with ageand dirt. There was a deal table before the fire: upon whichwere a candle, stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewterpots, a loaf and butter, and a plate. In a frying-pan, which wason the fire, and which was secured to the mantelshelf by astring, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, witha toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whosevillainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantityof matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, withhis throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention betweenthe frying-pan and the clothes-horse, over which a great numberof silk handkerchiefsl were hanging. Several rough beds made ofold sacks, were huddled side by side on the floor. Seated roundthe table were four or five boys, none older than the Dodger,smoking long clay pipes, and drinking spirits with the air ofmiddle-aged men. These all crowded about their associate as hewhispered a few words to the Jew; and then turned round andgrinned at Oliver. So did the Jew himself, toasting-fork inhand.

'This is him, Fagin,' said Jack Dawkins; 'my friend OliverTwist.'

The Jew grinned; and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took himby the hand, and hoped he should have the honour of his intimateacquaintance. Upon this, the young gentleman with the pipes cameround him, and shook both his hands very hard--especially the onein which he held his little bundle. One young gentleman was veryanxious to hang up his cap for him; and another was so obligingas to put his hands in his pockets, in order that, as he was verytired, he might not have the trouble of emptying them, himself,when he went to bed. These civilities would probably be extendedmuch farther, but for a liberal exercise of the Jew'stoasting-fork on the heads and shoulders of the affectionateyouths who offered them.

'We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very,' said the Jew.'Dodger, take off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire forOliver. Ah, you're a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, mydear. There are a good many of 'em, ain't there? We've justlooked 'em out, ready for the wash; that's all, Oliver; that'sall. Ha! ha! ha!'

The latter part of this speech, was hailed by a boisterous shoutfrom all the hopeful pupils of the merry old gentleman. In themidst of which they went to supper.

Oliver ate his share, and the Jew then mixed him a glass of hotgin-and-water: telling him he must drink it off directly,because another gentleman wanted the tumbler. Oliver did as hewas desired. Immediately afterwards he felt himself gentlylifted on to one of the sacks; and then he sunk into a deepsleep.



It was late next morning when Oliver awoke, from a sound, longsleep. There was no other person in the room but the old Jew,who was boiling some coffee in a saucepan for breakfast, andwhistling softly to himself as he stirred it round and round,with an iron spoon. He would stop every now and then to listenwhen there was the least noise below: and when he had satistifiedhimself, he would go on whistling and stirring again, as before.

Although Oliver had roused himself from sleep, he was notthoroughly awake. There is a drowsy state, between sleeping andwaking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes halfopen, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passingaround you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fastclosed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. Atsuch time, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing,to form some glimmering conception of its mighty powers, itsbounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed fromthe restraint of its corporeal associate.

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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