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CHAPTER XVI

RELATES WHAT BECAME OF OLIVER TWIST, AFTER HE HAD BEEN CLAIMED BY
NANCY

The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a large
open space; scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and
other indications of a cattle-market. Sikes slackened his pace
when they reached this spot: the girl being quite unable to
support any longer, the rapid rate at which they had hitherto
walked. Turning to Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take hold
of Nancy's hand.

'Do you hear?' growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and looked
round.

They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers.

Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of no
avail. He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.

'Give me the other,' said Sikes, seizing Oliver's unoccupied
hand. 'Here, Bull's-Eye!'

The dog looked up, and growled.

'See here, boy!' said Sikes, putting his other hand to Oliver's
throat; 'if he speaks ever so soft a word, hold him! D'ye mind!'

The dog growled again; and licking his lips, eyed Oliver as if he
were anxious to attach himself to his windpipe without delay.

'He's as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if he isn't!'
said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim and
ferocious approval. 'Now, you know what you've got to expect,
master, so call away as quick as you like; the dog will soon stop
that game. Get on, young'un!'

Bull's-eye wagged his tail in acknowledgment of this unusually
endearing form of speech; and, giving vent to another admonitory
growl for the benefit of Oliver, led the way onward.

It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have
been Grosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary.
The night was dark and foggy. The lights in the shops could
scarecely struggle through the heavy mist, which thickened every
moment and shrouded the streets and houses in gloom; rendering
the strange place still stranger in Oliver's eyes; and making his
uncertainty the more dismal and depressing.

They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struck
the hour. With its first stroke, his two conductors stopped, and
turned their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded.

'Eight o' clock, Bill,' said Nancy, when the bell ceased.

'What's the good of telling me that; I can hear it, can't I!'
replied Sikes.

'I wonder whether THEY can hear it,' said Nancy.

'Of course they can,' replied Sikes. 'It was Bartlemy time when
I was shopped; and there warn't a penny trumpet in the fair, as I
couldn't hear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for the
night, the row and din outside made the thundering old jail so
silent, that I could almost have beat my brains out against the
iron plates of the door.'

'Poor fellow!' said Nancy, who still had her face turned towards
the quarter in which the bell had sounded. 'Oh, Bill, such fine
young chaps as them!'

'Yes; that's all you women think of,' answered Sikes. 'Fine
young chaps! Well, they're as good as dead, so it don't much
matter.'

With this consolation, Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising
tendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver's wrist more firmly,
told him to step out again.

'Wait a minute!' said the girl: 'I wouldn't hurry by, if it was
you that was coming out to be hung, the next time eight o'clock
struck, Bill. I'd walk round and round the place till I dropped,
if the snow was on the ground, and I hadn't a shawl to cover me.'

'And what good would that do?' inquired the unsentimental Mr.
Sikes. 'Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards of
good stout rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or
not walking at all, for all the good it would do me. Come on,
and don't stand preaching there.'

The girl burst into a laugh; drew her shawl more closely round
her; and they walked away. But Oliver felt her hand tremble,
and, looking up in her face as they passed a gas-lamp, saw that
it had turned a deadly white.

They walked on, by little-frequented and dirty ways, for a full
half-hour: meeting very few people, and those appearing from
their looks to hold much the same position in society as Mr.
Sikes himself. At length they turned into a very filthy narrow
street, nearly full of old-clothes shops; the dog running
forward, as if conscious that there was no further occasion for
his keeping on guard, stopped before the door of a shop that was
closed and apparently untenanted; the house was in a ruinous
condition, and on the door was nailed a board, intimating that it
was to let: which looked as if it had hung there for many years.

'All right,' cried Sikes, glancing cautiously about.

Nancy stooped below the shutters, and Oliver heard the sound of a
bell. They crossed to the opposite side of the street, and stood
for a few moments under a lamp. A noise, as if a sash window
were gently raised, was heard; and soon afterwards the door
softly opened. Mr. Sikes then seized the terrified boy by the
collar with very little ceremony; and all three were quickly
inside the house.

The passage was perfectly dark. They waited, while the person
who had let them in, chained and barred the door.

'Anybody here?' inquired Sikes.

'No,' replied a voice, which Oliver thought he had heard before.

'Is the old 'un here?' asked the robber.

'Yes,' replied the voice, 'and precious down in the mouth he has
been. Won't he be glad to see you? Oh, no!'

The style of this reply, as well as the voice which delivered it,
seemed familiar to Oliver's ears: but it was impossible to
distinguish even the form of the speaker in the darkness.

'Let's have a glim,' said Sikes, 'or we shall go breaking our
necks, or treading on the dog. Look after your legs if you do!'

'Stand still a moment, and I'll get you one,' replied the voice.
The receding footsteps of the speaker were heard; and, in another
minute, the form of Mr. John Dawkins, otherwise the Artful
Dodger, appeared. He bore in his right hand a tallow candle
stuck in the end of a cleft stick.

The young gentleman did not stop to bestow any other mark of
recognition upon Oliver than a humourous grin; but, turning away,
beckoned the visitors to follow him down a flight of stairs.
They crossed an empty kitchen; and, opening the door of a low
earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in a small
back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter.

'Oh, my wig, my wig!' cried Master Charles Bates, from whose
lungs the laughter had proceeded: 'here he is! oh, cry, here he
is! Oh, Fagin, look at him! Fagin, do look at him! I can't bear
it; it is such a jolly game, I cant' bear it. Hold me, somebody,
while I laugh it out.'

With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid
himself flat on the floor: and kicked convulsively for five
minutes, in an ectasy of facetious joy. Then jumping to his
feet, he snatched the cleft stick from the Dodger; and, advancing
to Oliver, viewed him round and round; while the Jew, taking off
his nightcap, made a great number of low bows to the bewildered
boy. The Artful, meantime, who was of a rather saturnine
disposition, and seldom gave way to merriment when it interfered
with business, rifled Oliver's pockets with steady assiduity.

'Look at his togs, Fagin!' said Charley, putting the light so
close to his new jacket as nearly to set him on fire. 'Look at
his togs! Superfine cloth, and the heavy swell cut! Oh, my eye,
what a game! And his books, too! Nothing but a gentleman,
Fagin!'

'Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear,' said the Jew,
bowing with mock humility. 'The Artful shall give you another
suit, my dear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one. Why
didn't you write, my dear, and say you were coming? We'd have
got something warm for supper.'

At his, Master Bates roared again: so loud, that Fagin himself
relaxed, and even the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth
the five-pound note at that instant, it is doubtful whether the
sally of the discovery awakened his merriment.

'Hallo, what's that?' inquired Sikes, stepping forward as the Jew
seized the note. 'That's mine, Fagin.'

'No, no, my dear,' said the Jew. 'Mine, Bill, mine. You shall
have the books.'

'If that ain't mine!' said Bill Sikes, putting on his hat with a
determined air; 'mine and Nancy's that is; I'll take the boy back
again.'

The Jew started. Oliver started too, though from a very
different cause; for he hoped that the dispute might really end
in his being taken back.

'Come! Hand over, will you?' said Sikes.

'This is hardly fair, Bill; hardly fair, is it, Nancy?' inquired
the Jew.

'Fair, or not fair,' retorted Sikes, 'hand over, I tell you! Do
you think Nancy and me has got nothing else to do with our
precious time but to spend it in scouting arter, and kidnapping,
every young boy as gets grabbed through you? Give it here, you
avaricious old skeleton, give it here!'

With this gentle remonstrance, Mr. Sikes plucked the note from
between the Jew's finger and thumb; and looking the old man
coolly in the face, folded it up small, and tied it in his
neckerchief.

'That's for our share of the trouble,' said Sikes; 'and not half
enough, neither. You may keep the books, if you're fond of
reading. If you ain't, sell 'em.'

'They're very pretty,' said Charley Bates: who, with sundry
grimaces, had been affecting to read one of the volumes in
question; 'beautiful writing, isn't is, Oliver?' At sight of the
dismayed look with which Oliver regarded his tormentors, Master
Bates, who was blessed with a lively sense of the ludicrous, fell
into another ectasy, more boisterous than the first.

'They belong to the old gentleman,' said Oliver, wringing his
hands; 'to the good, kind, old gentleman who took me into his
house, and had me nursed, when I was near dying of the fever.
Oh, pray send them back; send him back the books and money. Keep
me here all my life long; but pray, pray send them back. He'll
think I stole them; the old lady: all of them who were so kind
to me: will think I stole them. Oh, do have mercy upon me, and
send them back!'

With these words, which were uttered with all the energy of
passionate grief, Oliver fell upon his knees at the Jew's feet;
and beat his hands together, in perfect desperation.

'The boy's right,' remarked Fagin, looking covertly round, and
knitting his shaggy eyebrows into a hard knot. 'You're right,
Oliver, you're right; they WILL think you have stolen 'em. Ha!
ha!' chuckled the Jew, rubbing his hands, 'it couldn't have
happened better, if we had chosen our time!'

'Of course it couldn't,' replied Sikes; 'I know'd that, directly
I see him coming through Clerkenwell, with the books under his
arm. It's all right enough. They're soft-hearted psalm-singers,
or they wouldn't have taken him in at all; and they'll ask no
questions after him, fear they should be obliged to prosecute,
and so get him lagged. He's safe enough.'

Oliver had looked from one to the other, while these words were
being spoken, as if he were bewildered, and could scarecely
understand what passed; but when Bill Sikes concluded, he jumped
suddenly to his feet, and tore wildly from the room: uttering
shrieks for help, which made the bare old house echo to the roof.

'Keep back the dog, Bill!' cried Nancy, springing before the
door, and closing it, as the Jew and his two pupils darted out in
pursuit. 'Keep back the dog; he'll tear the boy to pieces.'

'Serve him right!' cried Sikes, struggling to disengage himself
from the girl's grasp. 'Stand off from me, or I'll split your
head against the wall.'

'I don't care for that, Bill, I don't care for that,' screamed
the girl, struggling violently with the man, 'the child shan't be
torn down by the dog, unless you kill me first.'

'Shan't he!' said Sikes, setting his teeth. 'I'll soon do that,
if you don't keep off.'

The housebreaker flung the girl from him to the further end of
the room, just as the Jew and the two boys returned, dragging
Oliver among them.

'What's the matter here!' said Fagin, looking round.

'The girl's gone mad, I think,' replied Sikes, savagely.

'No, she hasn't,' said Nancy, pale and breathless from the
scuffle; 'no, she hasn't, Fagin; don't think it.'

'Then keep quiet, will you?' said the Jew, with a threatening
look.

'No, I won't do that, neither,' replied Nancy, speaking very
loud. 'Come! What do you think of that?'

Mr. Fagin was sufficiently well acquainted with the manners and
customs of that particular species of humanity to which Nancy
belonged, to feel tolerably certain that it would be rather
unsafe to prolong any conversation with her, at present. With
the view of diverting the attention of the company, he turned to
Oliver.

'So you wanted to get away, my dear, did you?' said the Jew,
taking up a jagged and knotted club which law in a corner of the
fireplace; 'eh?'

Oliver made no reply. But he watched the Jew's motions, and
breathed quickly.

'Wanted to get assistance; called for the police; did you?'
sneered the Jew, catching the boy by the arm. 'We'll cure you of
that, my young master.'

The Jew inflicted a smart blow on Oliver's shoulders with the
club; and was raising it for a second, when the girl, rushing
forward, wrested it from his hand. She flung it into the fire,
with a force that brought some of the glowing coals whirling out
into the room.

'I won't stand by and see it done, Fagin,' cried the girl.
'You've got the boy, and what more would you have?--Let him
be--let him be--or I shall put that mark on some of you, that
will bring me to the gallows before my time.'

The girl stamped her foot violently on the floor as she vented
this threat; and with her lips compressed, and her hands
clenched, looked alternately at the Jew and the other robber:
her face quite colourless from the passion of rage into which she
had gradually worked herself.

'Why, Nancy!' said the Jew, in a soothing tone; after a pause,
during which he and Mr. Sikes had stared at one another in a
disconcerted manner; 'you,--you're more clever than ever
to-night. Ha! ha! my dear, you are acting beautifully.'

'Am I!' said the girl. 'Take care I don't overdo it. You will
be the worse for it, Fagin, if I do; and so I tell you in good
time to keep clear of me.'

There is something about a roused woman: especially if she add to
all her other strong passions, the fierce impulses of
recklessness and despair; which few men like to provoke. The Jew
saw that it would be hopeless to affect any further mistake
regarding the reality of Miss Nancy's rage; and, shrinking
involuntarily back a few paces, cast a glance, half imploring and
half cowardly, at Sikes: as if to hint that he was the fittest
person to pursue the dialogue.

Mr. Sikes, thus mutely appealed to; and possibly feeling his
personal pride and influence interested in the immediate
reduction of Miss Nancy to reason; gave utterance to about a
couple of score of curses and threats, the rapid production of
which reflected great credit on the fertility of his invention.
As they produced no visible effect on the object against whom
they were discharged, however, he resorted to more tangible
arguments.

'What do you mean by this?' said Sikes; backing the inquiry with
a very common imprecation concerning the most beautiful of human
features: which, if it were heard above, only once out of every
fifty thousand times that it is uttered below, would render
blindness as common a disorder as measles: 'what do you mean by
it? Burn my body! Do you know who you are, and what you are?'

'Oh, yes, I know all about it,' replied the girl, laughing
hysterically; and shaking her head from side to side, with a poor
assumption of indifference.

'Well, then, keep quiet,' rejoined Sikes, with a growl like that
he was accustomed to use when addressing his dog, 'or I'll quiet
you for a good long time to come.'

The girl laughed again: even less composedly than before; and,
darting a hasty look at Sikes, turned her face aside, and bit her
lip till the blood came.

'You're a nice one,' added Sikes, as he surveyed her with a
contemptuous air, 'to take up the humane and gen--teel side! A
pretty subject for the child, as you call him, to make a friend
of!'

'God Almighty help me, I am!' cried the girl passionately; 'and I
wish I had been struck dead in the street, or had changed places
with them we passed so near to-night, before I had lent a hand in
bringing him here. He's a thief, a liar, a devil, all that's
bad, from this night forth. Isn't that enough for the old
wretch, without blows?'

'Come, come, Sikes,' said the Jew appealing to him in a
remonstratory tone, and motioning towards the boys, who were
eagerly attentive to all that passed; 'we must have civil words;
civil words, Bill.'

'Civil words!' cried the girl, whose passion was frightful to
see. 'Civil words, you villain! Yes, you deserve 'em from me.
I thieved for you when I was a child not half as old as this!'
pointing to Oliver. 'I have been in the same trade, and in the
same service, for twelve years since. Don't you know it? Speak
out! Don't you know it?'

'Well, well,' replied the Jew, with an attempt at pacification;
'and, if you have, it's your living!'

'Aye, it is!' returned the girl; not speaking, but pouring out
the words in one continuous and vehement scream. 'It is my
living; and the cold, wet, dirty streets are my home; and you're
the wretch that drove me to them long ago, and that'll keep me
there, day and night, day and night, till I die!'

'I shall do you a mischief!' interposed the Jew, goaded by these
reproaches; 'a mischief worse than that, if you say much more!'

The girl said nothing more; but, tearing her hair and dress in a
transport of passion, made such a rush at the Jew as would
probably have left signal marks of her revenge upon him, had not
her wrists been seized by Sikes at the right moment; upon which,
she made a few ineffectual struggles, and fainted.

'She's all right now,' said Sikes, laying her down in a corner.
'She's uncommon strong in the arms, when she's up in this way.'

The Jew wiped his forehead: and smiled, as if it were a relief to
have the disturbance over; but neither he, nor Sikes, nor the
dog, nor the boys, seemed to consider it in any other light than
a common occurance incidental to business.

'It's the worst of having to do with women,' said the Jew,
replacing his club; 'but they're clever, and we can't get on, in
our line, without 'em. Charley, show Oliver to bed.'

'I suppose he'd better not wear his best clothes tomorrow, Fagin,
had he?' inquired Charley Bates.

'Certainly not,' replied the Jew, reciprocating the grin with
which Charley put the question.

Master Bates, apparently much delighted with his commission, took
the cleft stick: and led Oliver into an adjacent kitchen, where
there were two or three of the beds on which he had slept before;
and here, with many uncontrollable bursts of laughter, he
produced the identical old suit of clothes which Oliver had so
much congratulated himself upon leaving off at Mr. Brownlow's;
and the accidental display of which, to Fagin, by the Jew who
purchased them, had been the very first clue received, of his
whereabout.

'Put off the smart ones,' said Charley, 'and I'll give 'em to
Fagin to take care of. What fun it is!'

Poor Oliver unwillingly complied. Master Bates rolling up the
new clothes under his arm, departed from the room, leaving Oliver
in the dark, and locking the door behind him.

The noise of Charley's laughter, and the voice of Miss Betsy, who
opportunely arrived to throw water over her friend, and perform
other feminine offices for the promotion of her recovery, might
have kept many people awake under more happy circumstances than
those in which Oliver was placed. But he was sick and weary; and
he soon fell sound asleep.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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