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CHAPTER XIII

SOME NEW ACQUAINTANCES ARE INTRODUCED TO THE INTELLIGENT READER,
CONNECTED WITH WHOM VARIOUS PLEASANT MATTERS ARE RELATED,
APPERTAINING TO THIS HISTORY

'Where's Oliver?' said the Jew, rising with a menacing look.
'Where's the boy?'

The young thieves eyed their preceptor as if they were alarmed at
his violence; and looked uneasily at each other. But they made
no reply.

'What's become of the boy?' said the Jew, seizing the Dodger
tightly by the collar, and threatening him with horrid
imprecations. 'Speak out, or I'll throttle you!'

Mr. Fagin looked so very much in earnest, that Charley Bates, who
deemed it prudent in all cases to be on the safe side, and who
conceived it by no means improbable that it might be his turn to
be throttled second, dropped upon his knees, and raised a loud,
well-sustained, and continuous roar--something between a mad bull
and a speaking trumpet.

'Will you speak?' thundered the Jew: shaking the Dodger so much
that his keeping in the big coat at all, seemed perfectly
miraculous.

'Why, the traps have got him, and that's all about it,' said the
Dodger, sullenly. 'Come, let go o' me, will you!' And,
swinging himself, at one jerk, clean out of the big coat, which
he left in the Jew's hands, the Dodger snatched up the toasting
fork, and made a pass at the merry old gentleman's waistcoat;
which, if it had taken effect, would have let a little more
merriment out, than could have been easily replaced.

The Jew stepped back in this emergency, with more agility than
could have been anticipated in a man of his apparent decrepitude;
and, seizing up the pot, prepared to hurl it at his assailant's
head. But Charley Bates, at this moment, calling his attention
by a perfectly terrific howl, he suddenly altered its
destination, and flung it full at that young gentleman.

'Why, what the blazes is in the wind now!' growled a deep voice.
'Who pitched that 'ere at me? It's well it's the beer, and not
the pot, as hit me, or I'd have settled somebody. I might have
know'd, as nobody but an infernal, rich, plundering, thundering
old Jew could afford to throw away any drink but water--and not
that, unless he done the River Company every quarter. Wot's it
all about, Fagin? D--me, if my neck-handkercher an't lined with
beer! Come in, you sneaking warmint; wot are you stopping
outside for, as if you was ashamed of your master! Come in!'

The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow
of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled
drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings
which inclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling
calves;--the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in
an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to
garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty
belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends
of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He
disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a
beard of three days' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which
displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently
damaged by a blow.

'Come in, d'ye hear?' growled this engaging ruffian.

A white shaggy dog, with his face scratched and torn in twenty
different places, skulked into the room.

'Why didn't you come in afore?' said the man. 'You're getting
too proud to own me afore company, are you? Lie down!'

This command was accompanied with a kick, which sent the animal
to the other end of the room. He appeared well used to it,
however; for he coiled himself up in a corner very quietly,
without uttering a sound, and winking his very ill-looking eyes
twenty times in a minute, appeared to occupy himself in taking a
survey of the apartment.

'What are you up to? Ill-treating the boys, you covetous,
avaricious, in-sa-ti-a-ble old fence?' said the man, seating
himself deliberately. 'I wonder they don't murder you! I would
if I was them. If I'd been your 'prentice, I'd have done it long
ago, and--no, I couldn't have sold you afterwards, for you're fit
for nothing but keeping as a curiousity of ugliness in a glass
bottle, and I suppose they don't blow glass bottles large
enough.'

'Hush! hush! Mr. Sikes,' said the Jew, trembling; 'don't speak so
loud!'

'None of your mistering,' replied the ruffian; 'you always mean
mischief when you come that. You know my name: out with it! I
shan't disgrace it when the time comes.'

'Well, well, then--Bill Sikes,' said the Jew, with abject
humility. 'You seem out of humour, Bill.'

'Perhaps I am,' replied Sikes; 'I should think you was rather out
of sorts too, unless you mean as little harm when you throw
pewter pots about, as you do when you blab and--'

'Are you mad?' said the Jew, catching the man by the sleeve, and
pointing towards the boys.

Mr. Sikes contented himself with tying an imaginary knot under
his left ear, and jerking his head over on the right shoulder; a
piece of dumb show which the Jew appeared to understand
perfectly. He then, in cant terms, with which his whole
conversation was plentifully besprinkled, but which would be
quite unintelligible if they were recorded here, demanded a glass
of liquor.

'And mind you don't poison it,' said Mr. Sikes, laying his hat
upon the table.

This was said in jest; but if the speaker could have seen the
evil leer with which the Jew bit his pale lip as he turned round
to the cupboard, he might have thought the caution not wholly
unnecessary, or the wish (at all events) to improve upon the
distiller's ingenuity not very far from the old gentleman's merry
heart.

After swallowing two of three glasses of spirits, Mr. Sikes
condescended to take some notice of the young gentlemen; which
gracious act led to a conversation, in which the cause and manner
of Oliver's capture were circumstantially detailed, with such
alterations and improvements on the truth, as to the Dodger
appeared most advisable under the circumstances.

'I'm afraid,' said the Jew, 'that he may say something which will
get us into trouble.'

'That's very likely,' returned Sikes with a malicious grin.
'You're blowed upon, Fagin.'

'And I'm afraid, you see, added the Jew, speaking as if he had
not noticed the interruption; and regarding the other closely as
he did so,--'I'm afraid that, if the game was up with us, it
might be up with a good many more, and that it would come out
rather worse for you than it would for me, my dear.'

The man started, and turned round upon the Jew. But the old
gentleman's shoulders were shrugged up to his ears; and his eyes
were vacantly staring on the opposite wall.

There was a long pause. Every member of the respectable coterie
appeared plunged in his own reflections; not excepting the dog,
who by a certain malicious licking of his lips seemed to be
meditating an attack upon the legs of the first gentleman or lady
he might encounter in the streets when he went out.

'Somebody must find out wot's been done at the office,' said Mr.
Sikes in a much lower tone than he had taken since he came in.

The Jew nodded assent.

'If he hasn't peached, and is committed, there's no fear till he
comes out again,' said Mr. Sikes, 'and then he must be taken care
on. You must get hold of him somehow.'

Again the Jew nodded.

The prudence of this line of action, indeed, was obvious; but,
unfortunately, there was one very strong objection to its being
adopted. This was, that the Dodger, and Charley Bates, and
Fagin, and Mr. William Sikes, happened, one and all, to entertain
a violent and deeply-rooted antipathy to going near a
police-office on any ground or pretext whatever.

How long they might have sat and looked at each other, in a state
of uncertainty not the most pleasant of its kind, it is difficult
to guess. It is not necessary to make any guesses on the
subject, however; for the sudden entrance of the two young ladies
whom Oliver had seen on a former occasion, caused the
conversation to flow afresh.

'The very thing!' said the Jew. 'Bet will go; won't you, my
dear?'

'Wheres?' inquired the young lady.

'Only just up to the office, my dear,' said the Jew coaxingly.

It is due to the young lady to say that she did not positively
affirm that she would not, but that she merely expressed an
emphatic and earnest desire to be 'blessed' if she would; a
polite and delicate evasion of the request, which shows the young
lady to have been possessed of that natural good breeding which
cannot bear to inflict upon a fellow-creature, the pain of a
direct and pointed refusal.

The Jew's countenance fell. He turned from this young lady, who
was gaily, not to say gorgeously attired, in a red gown, green
boots, and yellow curl-papers, to the other female.

'Nancy, my dear,' said the Jew in a soothing manner, 'what do YOU
say?'

'That it won't do; so it's no use a-trying it on, Fagin,' replied
Nancy.

'What do you mean by that?' said Mr. Sikes, looking up in a surly
manner.

'What I say, Bill,' replied the lady collectedly.

'Why, you're just the very person for it,' reasoned Mr. Sikes:
'nobody about here knows anything of you.'

'And as I don't want 'em to, neither,' replied Nancy in the same
composed manner, 'it's rather more no than yes with me, Bill.'

'She'll go, Fagin,' said Sikes.

'No, she won't, Fagin,' said Nancy.

'Yes, she will, Fagin,' said Sikes.

And Mr. Sikes was right. By dint of alternate threats, promises,
and bribes, the lady in question was ultimately prevailed upon to
undertake the commission. She was not, indeed, withheld by the
same considerations as her agreeable friend; for, having recently
removed into the neighborhood of Field Lane from the remote but
genteel suburb of Ratcliffe, she was not under the same
apprehension of being recognised by any of her numerous
acquaintance.

Accordingly, with a clean white apron tied over her gown, and her
curl-papers tucked up under a straw bonnet,--both articles of
dress being provided from the Jew's inexhaustible stock,--Miss
Nancy prepared to issue forth on her errand.

'Stop a minute, my dear,' said the Jew, producing, a little
covered basket. 'Carry that in one hand. It looks more
respectable, my dear.'

'Give her a door-key to carry in her t'other one, Fagin,' said
Sikes; 'it looks real and genivine like.'

'Yes, yes, my dear, so it does,' said the Jew, hanging a large
street-door key on the forefinger of the young lady's right hand.

'There; very good! Very good indeed, my dear!' said the Jew,
rubbing his hands.

'Oh, my brother! My poor, dear, sweet, innocent little brother!'
exclaimed Nancy, bursting into tears, and wringing the little
basket and the street-door key in an agony of distress. 'What
has become of him! Where have they taken him to! Oh, do have
pity, and tell me what's been done with the dear boy, gentlemen;
do, gentlemen, if you please, gentlemen!'

Having uttered those words in a most lamentable and heart-broken
tone: to the immeasurable delight of her hearers: Miss Nancy
paused, winked to the company, nodded smilingly round, and
disappeared.

'Ah, she's a clever girl, my dears,' said the Jew, turning round
to his young friends, and shaking his head gravely, as if in mute
admonition to them to follow the bright example they had just
beheld.

'She's a honour to her sex,' said Mr. Sikes, filling his glass,
and smiting the table with his enormous fist. 'Here's her
health, and wishing they was all like her!'

While these, and many other encomiums, were being passed on the
accomplished Nancy, that young lady made the best of her way to
the police-office; whither, notwithstanding a little natural
timidity consequent upon walking through the streets alone and
unprotected, she arrived in perfect safety shortly afterwards.

Entering by the back way, she tapped softly with the key at one
of the cell-doors, and listened. There was no sound within: so
she coughed and listened again. Still there was no reply: so
she spoke.

'Nolly, dear?' murmured Nancy in a gentle voice; 'Nolly?'

There was nobody inside but a miserable shoeless criminal, who
had been taken up for playing the flute, and who, the offence
against society having been clearly proved, had been very
properly committed by Mr. Fang to the House of Correction for one
month; with the appropriate and amusing remark that since he had
so much breath to spare, it would be more wholesomely expended on
the treadmill than in a musical instrument. He made no answer:
being occupied mentally bewailing the loss of the flute, which
had been confiscated for the use of the county: so Nancy passed
on to the next cell, and knocked there.

'Well!' cried a faint and feeble voice.

'Is there a little boy here?' inquired Nancy, with a preliminary
sob.

'No,' replied the voice; 'God forbid.'

This was a vagrant of sixty-five, who was going to prison for NOT
playing the flute; or, in other words, for begging in the
streets, and doing nothing for his livelihood. In the next cell
was another man, who was going to the same prison for hawking tin
saucepans without license; thereby doing something for his
living, in defiance of the Stamp-office.

But, as neither of these criminals answered to the name of
Oliver, or knew anything about him, Nancy made straight up to the
bluff officer in the striped waistcoat; and with the most piteous
wailings and lamentations, rendered more piteous by a prompt and
efficient use of the street-door key and the little basket,
demanded her own dear brother.

'I haven't got him, my dear,' said the old man.

'Where is he?' screamed Nancy, in a distracted manner.

'Why, the gentleman's got him,' replied the officer.

'What gentleman! Oh, gracious heavens! What gentleman?'
exclaimed Nancy.

In reply to this incoherent questioning, the old man informed the
deeply affected sister that Oliver had been taken ill in the
office, and discharged in consequence of a witness having proved
the robbery to have been committed by another boy, not in
custody; and that the prosecutor had carried him away, in an
insensible condition, to his own residence: of and concerning
which, all the informant knew was, that it was somewhere in
Pentonville, he having heard that word mentioned in the
directions to the coachman.

In a dreadful state of doubt and uncertainty, the agonised young
woman staggered to the gate, and then, exchanging her faltering
walk for a swift run, returned by the most devious and
complicated route she could think of, to the domicile of the Jew.

Mr. Bill Sikes no sooner heard the account of the expedition
delivered, than he very hastily called up the white dog, and,
putting on his hat, expeditiously departed: without devoting any
time to the formality of wishing the company good-morning.

'We must know where he is, my dears; he must be found,' said the
Jew greatly excited. 'Charley, do nothing but skulk about, till
you bring home some news of him! Nancy, my dear, I must have him
found. I trust to you, my dear,--to you and the Artful for
everything! Stay, stay,' added the Jew, unlocking a drawer with
a shaking hand; 'there's money, my dears. I shall shut up this
shop to-night. You'll know where to find me! Don't stop here a
minute. Not an instant, my dears!'

With these words, he pushed them from the room: and carefully
double-locking and barring the door behind them, drew from its
place of concealment the box which he had unintentionally
disclosed to Oliver. Then, he hastily proceeded to dispose the
watches and jewellery beneath his clothing.

A rap at the door startled him in this occupation. 'Who's
there?' he cried in a shrill tone.

'Me!' replied the voice of the Dodger, through the key-hole.

'What now?' cried the Jew impatiently.

'Is he to be kidnapped to the other ken, Nancy says?' inquired
the Dodger.

'Yes,' replied the Jew, 'wherever she lays hands on him. Find
him, find him out, that's all. I shall know what to do next;
never fear.'

The boy murmured a reply of intelligence: and hurried downstairs
after his companions.

'He has not peached so far,' said the Jew as he pursued his
occupation. 'If he means to blab us among his new friends, we
may stop his mouth yet.'





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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