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CHAPTER XV

SHOWING HOW VERY FOND OF OLIVER TWIST, THE MERRY OLD JEW AND MISS
NANCY WERE

In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest
part of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a
flaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where no
ray of sun ever shone in the summer: there sat, brooding over a
little pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated
with the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts,
half-boots and stockings, whom even by that dim light no
experienced agent of the police would have hesitated to recognise
as Mr. William Sikes. At his feet, sat a white-coated, red-eyed
dog; who occupied himself, alternately, in winking at his master
with both eyes at the same time; and in licking a large, fresh
cut on one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result of
some recent conflict.

'Keep quiet, you warmint! Keep quiet!' said Mr. Sikes, suddenly
breaking silence. Whether his meditations were so intense as to
be disturbed by the dog's winking, or whether his feelings were
so wrought upon by his reflections that they required all the
relief derivable from kicking an unoffending animal to allay
them, is matter for argument and consideration. Whatever was the
cause, the effect was a kick and a curse, bestowed upon the dog
simultaneously.

Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon
them by their masters; but Mr. Sikes's dog, having faults of
temper in common with his owner, and labouring, perhaps, at this
moment, under a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado but at
once fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots. Having given in a
hearty shake, he retired, growling, under a form; just escaping
the pewter measure which Mr. Sikes levelled at his head.

'You would, would you?' said Sikes, seizing the poker in one
hand, and deliberately opening with the other a large
clasp-knife, which he drew from his pocket. 'Come here, you born
devil! Come here! D'ye hear?'

The dog no doubt heard; because Mr. Sikes spoke in the very
harshest key of a very harsh voice; but, appearing to entertain
some unaccountable objection to having his throat cut, he
remained where he was, and growled more fiercely than before: at
the same time grasping the end of the poker between his teeth,
and biting at it like a wild beast.

This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; who, dropping
on his knees, began to assail the animal most furiously. The dog
jumped from right to left, and from left to right; snapping,
growling, and barking; the man thrust and swore, and struck and
blasphemed; and the struggle was reaching a most critical point
for one or other; when, the door suddenly opening, the dog darted
out: leaving Bill Sikes with the poker and the clasp-knife in
his hands.

There must always be two parties to a quarrel, says the old
adage. Mr. Sikes, being disappointed of the dog's participation,
at once transferred his share in the quarrel to the new comer.

'What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?' said
Sikes, with a fierce gesture.

'I didn't know, my dear, I didn't know,' replied Fagin, humbly;
for the Jew was the new comer.

'Didn't know, you white-livered thief!' growled Sikes. 'Couldn't
you hear the noise?'

'Not a sound of it, as I'm a living man, Bill,' replied the Jew.

'Oh no! You hear nothing, you don't,' retorted Sikes with a
fierce sneer. 'Sneaking in and out, so as nobody hears how you
come or go! I wish you had been the dog, Fagin, half a minute
ago.'

'Why?' inquired the Jew with a forced smile.

'Cause the government, as cares for the lives of such men as you,
as haven't half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill a dog how he
likes,' replied Sikes, shutting up the knife with a very
expressive look; 'that's why.'

The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table,
affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend. He was
obviously very ill at ease, however.

'Grin away,' said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying him
with savage contempt; 'grin away. You'll never have the laugh at
me, though, unless it's behind a nightcap. I've got the upper
hand over you, Fagin; and, d--me, I'll keep it. There! If I go,
you go; so take care of me.'

'Well, well, my dear,' said the Jew, 'I know all that;
we--we--have a mutual interest, Bill,--a mutual interest.'

'Humph,' said Sikes, as if he though the interest lay rather more
on the Jew's side than on his. 'Well, what have you got to say
to me?'

'It's all passed safe through the melting-pot,' replied Fagin,
'and this is your share. It's rather more than it ought to be,
my dear; but as I know you'll do me a good turn another time,
and--'

'Stow that gammon,' interposed the robber, impatiently. 'Where is
it? Hand over!'

'Yes, yes, Bill; give me time, give me time,' replied the Jew,
soothingly. 'Here it is! All safe!' As he spoke, he drew forth
an old cotton handkerchief from his breast; and untying a large
knot in one corner, produced a small brown-paper packet. Sikes,
snatching it from him, hastily opened it; and proceeded to count
the sovereigns it contained.

'This is all, is it?' inquired Sikes.

'All,' replied the Jew.

'You haven't opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as you
come along, have you?' inquired Sikes, suspiciously. 'Don't put
on an injured look at the question; you've done it many a time.
Jerk the tinkler.'

These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring the
bell. It was answered by another Jew: younger than Fagin, but
nearly as vile and repulsive in appearance.

Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure. The Jew,
perfectly understanding the hint, retired to fill it: previously
exchanging a remarkable look with Fagin, who raised his eyes for
an instant, as if in expectation of it, and shook his head in
reply; so slightly that the action would have been almost
imperceptible to an observant third person. It was lost upon
Sikes, who was stooping at the moment to tie the boot-lace which
the dog had torn. Possibly, if he had observed the brief
interchange of signals, he might have thought that it boded no
good to him.

'Is anybody here, Barney?' inquired Fagin; speaking, now that
that Sikes was looking on, without raising his eyes from the
ground.

'Dot a shoul,' replied Barney; whose words: whether they came
from the heart or not: made their way through the nose.

'Nobody?' inquired Fagin, in a tone of surprise: which perhaps
might mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth.

'Dobody but Biss Dadsy,' replied Barney.

'Nancy!' exclaimed Sikes. 'Where? Strike me blind, if I don't
honour that 'ere girl, for her native talents.'

'She's bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar,' replied
Barney.

'Send her here,' said Sikes, pouring out a glass of liquor. 'Send
her here.'

Barney looked timidly at Fagin, as if for permission; the Jew
reamining silent, and not lifting his eyes from the ground, he
retired; and presently returned, ushering in Nancy; who was
decorated with the bonnet, apron, basket, and street-door key,
complete.

'You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?' inquired Sikes,
proffering the glass.

'Yes, I am, Bill,' replied the young lady, disposing of its
contents; 'and tired enough of it I am, too. The young brat's
been ill and confined to the crib; and--'

'Ah, Nancy, dear!' said Fagin, looking up.

Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew's red eye-brows,
and a half closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy that
she was disposed to be too communicative, is not a matter of much
importance. The fact is all we need care for here; and the fact
is, that she suddenly checked herself, and with several gracious
smiles upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to other matters.
In about ten minutes' time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit of
coughing; upon which Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders,
and declared it was time to go. Mr. Sikes, finding that he was
walking a short part of her way himself, expressed his intention
of accompanying her; they went away together, followed, at a
little distant, by the dog, who slunk out of a back-yard as soon
as his master was out of sight.

The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had left
it; looked after him as we walked up the dark passage; shook his
clenched fist; muttered a deep curse; and then, with a horrible
grin, reseated himself at the table; where he was soon deeply
absorbed in the interesting pages of the Hue-and-Cry.

Meanwhile, Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within so
very short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way
to the book-stall. When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidently
turned down a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but not
discovering his mistake until he had got half-way down it, and
knowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think it
worth while to turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as he
could, with the books under his arm.

He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought
to feel; and how much he would give for only one look at poor
little Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be weeping bitterly
at that very moment; when he was startled by a young woman
screaming out very loud. 'Oh, my dear brother!' And he had
hardly looked up, to see what the matter was, when he was stopped
by having a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck.

'Don't,' cried Oliver, struggling. 'Let go of me. Who is it?
What are you stopping me for?'

The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations
from the young woman who had embraced him; and who had a little
basket and a street-door key in her hand.

'Oh my gracious!' said the young woman, 'I have found him! Oh!
Oliver! Oliver! Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer such
distress on your account! Come home, dear, come. Oh, I've found
him. Thank gracious goodness heavins, I've found him!' With
these incoherent exclamations, the young woman burst into another
fit of crying, and got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple of
women who came up at the moment asked a butcher's boy with a
shiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was also looking on,
whether he didn't think he had better run for the doctor. To
which, the butcher's boy: who appeared of a lounging, not to say
indolent disposition: replied, that he thought not.

'Oh, no, no, never mind,' said the young woman, grasping Oliver's
hand; 'I'm better now. Come home directly, you cruel boy!
Come!'

'Oh, ma'am,' replied the young woman, 'he ran away, near a month
ago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectable
people; and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters;
and almost broke his mother's heart.'

'Young wretch!' said one woman.

'Go home, do, you little brute,' said the other.

'I am not,' replied Oliver, greatly alarmed. 'I don't know her.
I haven't any sister, or father and mother either. I'm an
orphan; I live at Pentonville.'

'Only hear him, how he braves it out!' cried the young woman.

'Why, it's Nancy!' exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face for the
first time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment.

'You see he knows me!' cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders.
'He can't help himself. Make him come home, there's good people,
or he'll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart!'

'What the devil's this?' said a man, bursting out of a beer-shop,
with a white dog at his heels; 'young Oliver! Come home to your
poor mother, you young dog! Come home directly.'

'I don't belong to them. I don't know them. Help! help! cried
Oliver, struggling in the man's powerful grasp.

'Help!' repeated the man. 'Yes; I'll help you, you young rascal!

What books are these? You've been a stealing 'em, have you?
Give 'em here.' With these words, the man tore the volumes from
his grasp, and struck him on the head.

'That's right!' cried a looker-on, from a garret-window. 'That's
the only way of bringing him to his senses!'

'To be sure!' cried a sleepy-faced carpenter, casting an
approving look at the garret-window.

'It'll do him good!' said the two women.

'And he shall have it, too!' rejoined the man, administering
another blow, and seizing Oliver by the collar. 'Come on, you
young villain! Here, Bull's-eye, mind him, boy! Mind him!'

Weak with recent illness; stupified by the blows and the
suddenness of the attack; terrified by the fierce growling of the
dog, and the brutality of the man; overpowered by the conviction
of the bystanders that he really was the hardened little wretch
he was described to be; what could one poor child do! Darkness
had set in; it was a low neighborhood; no help was near;
resistance was useless. In another moment he was dragged into a
labyrinth of dark narrow courts, and was forced along them at a
pace which rendered the few cries he dared to give utterance to,
unintelligible. It was of little moment, indeed, whether they
were intelligible or no; for there was nobody to care for them,
had they been ever so plain.

* * * * * * * * *

The gas-lamps were lighted; Mrs. Bedwin was waiting anxiously at
the open door; the servant had run up the street twenty times to
see if there were any traces of Oliver; and still the two old
gentlemen sat, perseveringly, in the dark parlour, with the watch
between them.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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