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CHAPTER XVIII

HOW OLIVER PASSED HIS TIME IN THE IMPROVING SOCIETY OF HIS
REPUTABLE FRIENDS

About noon next day, when the Dodger and Master Bates had gone
out to pursue their customary avocations, Mr. Fagin took the
opportunity of reading Oliver a long lecture on the crying sin of
ingratitude; of which he clearly demonstrated he had been guilty,
to no ordinary extent, in wilfully absenting himself from the
society of his anxious friends; and, still more, in endeavouring
to escape from them after so much trouble and expense had been
incurred in his recovery. Mr. Fagin laid great stress on the fact
of his having taken Oliver in, and cherished him, when, without
his timely aid, he might have perished with hunger; and he
related the dismal and affecting history of a young lad whom, in
his philanthropy, he had succoured under parallel circumstances,
but who, proving unworthy of his confidence and evincing a desire
to communicate with the police, had unfortunately come to be
hanged at the Old Bailey one morning. Mr. Fagin did not seek to
conceal his share in the catastrophe, but lamented with tears in
his eyes that the wrong-headed and treacherous behaviour of the
young person in question, had rendered it necessary that he
should become the victim of certain evidence for the crown:
which, if it were not precisely true, was indispensably necessary
for the safety of him (Mr. Fagin) and a few select friends. Mr.
Fagin concluded by drawing a rather disagreeable picture of the
discomforts of hanging; and, with great friendliness and
politeness of manner, expressed his anxious hopes that he might
never be obliged to submit Oliver Twist to that unpleasant
operation.

Little Oliver's blood ran cold, as he listened to the Jew's
words, and imperfectly comprehended the dark threats conveyed in
them. That it was possible even for justice itself to confound
the innocent with the guilty when they were in accidental
companionship, he knew already; and that deeply-laid plans for
the destruction of inconveniently knowing or over-communicative
persons, had been really devised and carried out by the Jew on
more occasions than one, he thought by no means unlikely, when he
recollected the general nature of the altercations between that
gentleman and Mr. Sikes: which seemed to bear reference to some
foregone conspiracy of the kind. As he glanced timidly up, and
met the Jew's searching look, he felt that his pale face and
trembling limbs were neither unnoticed nor unrelished by that
wary old gentleman.

The Jew, smiling hideously, patted Oliver on the head, and said,
that if he kept himself quiet, and applied himself to business,
he saw they would be very good friends yet. Then, taking his
hat, and covering himself with an old patched great-coat, he went
out, and locked the room-door behind him.

And so Oliver remained all that day, and for the greater part of
many subsequent days, seeing nobody, between early morning and
midnight, and left during the long hours to commune with his own
thoughts. Which, never failing to revert to his kind friends,
and the opinion they must long ago have formed of him, were sad
indeed.

After the lapse of a week or so, the Jew left the room-door
unlocked; and he was at liberty to wander about the house.

It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great high
wooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls and
cornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black with
neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways. From all of
these tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before the
old Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and had
perhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it
looked now.

Spiders had built their webs in the angles of the walls and
ceilings; and sometimes, when Oliver walked softly into a room,
the mice would scamper across the floor, and run back terrified
to their holes. With these exceptions, there was neither sight
nor sound of any living thing; and often, when it grew dark, and
he was tired of wandering from room to room, he would crouch in
the corner of the passage by the street-door, to be as near
living people as he could; and would remain there, listening and
counting the hours, until the Jew or the boys returned.

In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters were fast closed: the
bars which held them were screwed tight into the wood; the only
light which was admitted, stealing its way through round holes at
the top: which made the rooms more gloomy, and filled them with
strange shadows. There was a back-garret window with rusty bars
outside, which had no shutter; and out of this, Oliver often
gazed with a melancholy face for hours together; but nothing was
to be descried from it but a confused and crowded mass of
housetops, blackened chimneys, and gable-ends. Sometimes,
indeed, a grizzly head might be seen, peering over the
parapet-wall of a distant house; but it was quickly withdrawn
again; and as the window of Oliver's observatory was nailed down,
and dimmed with the rain and smoke of years, it was as much as he
could do to make out the forms of the different objects beyond,
without making any attempt to be seen or heard,--which he had as
much chance of being, as if he had lived inside the ball of St.
Paul's Cathedral.

One afternoon, the Dodger and Master Bates being engaged out that
evening, the first-named young gentleman took it into his head to
evince some anxiety regarding the decoration of his person (to do
him justice, this was by no means an habitual weakness with him);
and, with this end and aim, he condescendingly commanded Oliver
to assist him in his toilet, straightway.

Oliver was but too glad to make himself useful; too happy to have
some faces, however bad, to look upon; too desirous to conciliate
those about him when he could honestly do so; to throw any
objection in the way of this proposal. So he at once expressed
his readiness; and, kneeling on the floor, while the Dodger sat
upon the table so that he could take his foot in his laps, he
applied himself to a process which Mr. Dawkins designated as
'japanning his trotter-cases.' The phrase, rendered into plain
English, signifieth, cleaning his boots.

Whether it was the sense of freedom and independence which a
rational animal may be supposed to feel when he sits on a table
in an easy attitude smoking a pipe, swinging one leg carelessly
to and fro, and having his boots cleaned all the time, without
even the past trouble of having taken them off, or the
prospective misery of putting them on, to disturb his
reflections; or whether it was the goodness of the tobacco that
soothed the feelings of the Dodger, or the mildness of the beer
that mollified his thoughts; he was evidently tinctured, for the
nonce, with a spice of romance and enthusiasm, foreign to his
general nature. He looked down on Oliver, with a thoughtful
countenance, for a brief space; and then, raising his head, and
heaving a gentle sign, said, half in abstraction, and half to
Master Bates:

'What a pity it is he isn't a prig!'

'Ah!' said Master Charles Bates; 'he don't know what's good for
him.'

The Dodger sighed again, and resumed his pipe: as did Charley
Bates. They both smoked, for some seconds, in silence.

'I suppose you don't even know what a prig is?' said the Dodger
mournfully.

'I think I know that,' replied Oliver, looking up. 'It's a
the--; you're one, are you not?' inquired Oliver, checking
himself.

'I am,' replied the Doger. 'I'd scorn to be anything else.' Mr.
Dawkins gave his hat a ferocious cock, after delivering this
sentiment, and looked at Master Bates, as if to denote that he
would feel obliged by his saying anything to the contrary.

'I am,' repeated the Dodger. 'So's Charley. So's Fagin. So's
Sikes. So's Nancy. So's Bet. So we all are, down to the dog.
And he's the downiest one of the lot!'

'And the least given to peaching,' added Charley Bates.

'He wouldn't so much as bark in a witness-box, for fear of
committing himself; no, not if you tied him up in one, and left
him there without wittles for a fortnight,' said the Dodger.

'Not a bit of it,' observed Charley.

'He's a rum dog. Don't he look fierce at any strange cove that
laughs or sings when he's in company!' pursued the Dodger.
'Won't he growl at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! And
don't he hate other dogs as ain't of his breed! Oh, no!'

'He's an out-and-out Christian,' said Charley.

This was merely intended as a tribute to the animal's abilities,
but it was an appropriate remark in another sense, if Master
Bates had only known it; for there are a good many ladies and
gentlemen, claiming to be out-and-out Christians, between whom,
and Mr. Sikes' dog, there exist strong and singular points of
resemblance.

'Well, well,' said the Dodger, recurring to the point from which
they had strayed: with that mindfulness of his profession which
influenced all his proceedings. 'This hasn't go anything to do
with young Green here.'

'No more it has,' said Charley. 'Why don't you put yourself
under Fagin, Oliver?'

'And make your fortun' out of hand?' added the Dodger, with a
grin.

'And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-teel:
as I mean to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever
comes, and the forty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,' said
Charley Bates.

'I don't like it,' rejoined Oliver, timidly; 'I wish they would
let me go. I--I--would rather go.'

'And Fagin would RATHER not!' rejoined Charley.

Oliver knew this too well; but thinking it might be dangerous to
express his feelings more openly, he only sighed, and went on
with his boot-cleaning.

'Go!' exclaimed the Dodger. 'Why, where's your spirit?' Don't
you take any pride out of yourself? Would you go and be
dependent on your friends?'

'Oh, blow that!' said Master Bates: drawing two or three silk
handkerchiefs from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard,
'that's too mean; that is.'

'_I_ couldn't do it,' said the Dodger, with an air of haughty
disgust.

'You can leave your friends, though,' said Oliver with a half
smile; 'and let them be punished for what you did.'

'That,' rejoined the Dodger, with a wave of his pipe, 'That was
all out of consideration for Fagin, 'cause the traps know that we
work together, and he might have got into trouble if we hadn't
made our lucky; that was the move, wasn't it, Charley?'

Master Bates nodded assent, and would have spoken, but the
recollection of Oliver's flight came so suddenly upon him, that
the smoke he was inhaling got entagled with a laugh, and went up
into his head, and down into his throat: and brought on a fit of
coughing and stamping, about five minutes long.

'Look here!' said the Dodger, drawing forth a handful of
shillings and halfpence. 'Here's a jolly life! What's the odds
where it comes from? Here, catch hold; there's plenty more where
they were took from. You won't, won't you? Oh, you precious
flat!'

'It's naughty, ain't it, Oliver?' inquired Charley Bates. 'He'll
come to be scragged, won't he?'

'I don't know what that means,' replied Oliver.

'Something in this way, old feller,' said Charly. As he said it,
Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding it
erect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked a
curious sound through his teeth; thereby indicating, by a lively
pantomimic representation, that scragging and hanging were one
and the same thing.

'That's what it means,' said Charley. 'Look how he stares, Jack!

I never did see such prime company as that 'ere boy; he'll be the
death of me, I know he will.' Master Charley Bates, having
laughed heartily again, resumed his pipe with tears in his eyes.

'You've been brought up bad,' said the Dodger, surveying his
boots with much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them.
'Fagin will make something of you, though, or you'll be the first
he ever had that turned out unprofitable. You'd better begin at
once; for you'll come to the trade long before you think of it;
and you're only losing time, Oliver.'

Master Bates backed this advice with sundry moral admonitions of
his own: which, being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkins
launched into a glowing description of the numerous pleasures
incidental to the life they led, interspersed with a variety of
hints to Oliver that the best thing he could do, would be to
secure Fagin's favour without more delay, by the means which they
themselves had employed to gain it.

'And always put this in your pipe, Nolly,' said the Dodger, as
the Jew was heard unlocking the door above, 'if you don't take
fogels and tickers--'

'What's the good of talking in that way?' interposed Master
Bates; 'he don't know what you mean.'

'If you don't take pocket-handkechers and watches,' said the
Dodger, reducing his conversation to the level of Oliver's
capacity, 'some other cove will; so that the coves that lose 'em
will be all the worse, and you'll be all the worse, too, and
nobody half a ha'p'orth the better, except the chaps wot gets
them--and you've just as good a right to them as they have.'

'To be sure, to be sure!' said the Jew, who had entered unseen by
Oliver. 'It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell, take
the Dodger's word for it. Ha! ha! ha! He understands the
catechism of his trade.'

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully together, as he
corroborated the Dodger's reasoning in these terms; and chuckled
with delight at his pupil's proficiency.

The conversation proceeded no farther at this time, for the Jew
had returned home accompanied by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whom
Oliver had never seen before, but who was accosted by the Dodger
as Tom Chitling; and who, having lingered on the stairs to
exchange a few gallantries with the lady, now made his
appearance.

Mr. Chitling was older in years than the Dodger: having perhaps
numbered eighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference in
his deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed to
indicate that he felt himself conscious of a slight inferiority
in point of genius and professional aquirements. He had small
twinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a dark
corduroy jacket, greasy fustian trousers, and an apron. His
wardrobe was, in truth, rather out of repair; but he excused
himself to the company by stating that his 'time' was only out an
hour before; and that, in consequence of having worn the
regimentals for six weeks past, he had not been able to bestow
any attention on his private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, with
strong marks of irritation, that the new way of fumigating
clothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional, for it burnt
holes in them, and there was no remedy against the County. The
same remark he considered to apply to the regulation mode of
cutting the hair: which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr.
Chitling wound up his observations by stating that he had not
touched a drop of anything for forty-two moral long hard-working
days; and that he 'wished he might be busted if he warn't as dry
as a lime-basket.'

'Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver?'
inquired the Jew, with a grin, as the other boys put a bottle of
spirits on the table.

'I--I--don't know, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Who's that?' inquired Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous look
at Oliver.

'A young friend of mine, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'He's in luck, then,' said the young man, with a meaning look at
Fagin. 'Never mind where I came from, young 'un; you'll find
your way there, soon enough, I'll bet a crown!'

At this sally, the boys laughed. After some more jokes on the
same subject, they exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin; and
withdrew.

After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, they
drew their chairs towards the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver
to come and sit by him, led the conversation to the topics most
calculated to interest his hearers. These were, the great
advantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, the
amiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jew
himself. At length these subjects displayed signs of being
thoroughly exhausted; and Mr. Chitling did the same: for the
house of correction becomes fatiguing after a week or two. Miss
Betsy accordingly withdrew; and left the party to their repose.

From this day, Oliver was seldom left alone; but was placed in
almost constant communication with the two boys, who played the
old game with the Jew every day: whether for their own
improvement or Oliver's, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other times the
old man would tell them stories of robberies he had committed in
his younger days: mixed up with so much that was droll and
curious, that Oliver could not help laughing heartily, and
showing that he was amused in spite of all his better feelings.

In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils. Having
prepared his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society
to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary
place, he was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison
which he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue for ever.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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