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CHAPTER XXII

THE BURGLARY

'Hallo!' cried a loud, hoarse voice, as soon as they set foot in
the passage.

'Don't make such a row,' said Sikes, bolting the door. 'Show a
glim, Toby.'

'Aha! my pal!' cried the same voice. 'A glim, Barney, a glim!
Show the gentleman in, Barney; wake up first, if convenient.'

The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article,
at the person he addressed, to rouse him from his slumbers: for
the noise of a wooden body, falling violently, was heard; and
then an indistinct muttering, as of a man between sleep and
awake.

'Do you hear?' cried the same voice. 'There's Bill Sikes in the
passage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleeping
there, as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothing
stronger. Are you any fresher now, or do you want the iron
candlestick to wake you thoroughly?'

A pair of slipshod feet shuffled, hastily, across the bare floor
of the room, as this interrogatory was put; and there issued,
from a door on the right hand; first, a feeble candle: and next,
the form of the same individual who has been heretofore described
as labouring under the infirmity of speaking through his nose,
and officiating as waiter at the public-house on Saffron Hill.

'Bister Sikes!' exclaimed Barney, with real or counterfeit joy;
'cub id, sir; cub id.'

'Here! you get on first,' said Sikes, putting Oliver in front of
him. 'Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels.'

Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver before
him; and they entered a low dark room with a smoky fire, two or
three broken chairs, a table, and a very old couch: on which,
with his legs much higher than his head, a man was reposing at
full length, smoking a long clay pipe. He was dressed in a
smartly-cut snuff-coloured coat, with large brass buttons; an
orange neckerchief; a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat;
and drab breeches. Mr. Crackit (for he it was) had no very great
quantity of hair, either upon his head or face; but what he had,
was of a reddish dye, and tortured into long corkscrew curls,
through which he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers,
ornamented with large common rings. He was a trifle above the
middle size, and apparently rather weak in the legs; but this
circumstance by no means detracted from his own admiration of his
top-boots, which he contemplated, in their elevated situation,
with lively satisfaction.

'Bill, my boy!' said this figure, turning his head towards the
door, 'I'm glad to see you. I was almost afraid you'd given it
up: in which case I should have made a personal wentur. Hallo!'

Uttering this exclamation in a tone of great surprise, as his
eyes rested on Oliver, Mr. Toby Crackit brought himself into a
sitting posture, and demanded who that was.

'The boy. Only the boy!' replied Sikes, drawing a chair towards
the fire.

'Wud of Bister Fagid's lads,' exclaimed Barney, with a grin.

'Fagin's, eh!' exclaimed Toby, looking at Oliver. 'Wot an
inwalable boy that'll make, for the old ladies' pockets in
chapels! His mug is a fortin' to him.'

'There--there's enough of that,' interposed Sikes, impatiently;
and stooping over his recumbant friend, he whispered a few words
in his ear: at which Mr. Crackit laughed immensely, and honoured
Oliver with a long stare of astonishment.

'Now,' said Sikes, as he resumed his seat, 'if you'll give us
something to eat and drink while we're waiting, you'll put some
heart in us; or in me, at all events. Sit down by the fire,
younker, and rest yourself; for you'll have to go out with us
again to-night, though not very far off.'

Oliver looked at Sikes, in mute and timid wonder; and drawing a
stool to the fire, sat with his aching head upon his hands,
scarecely knowing where he was, or what was passing around him.

'Here,' said Toby, as the young Jew placed some fragments of
food, and a bottle upon the table, 'Success to the crack!' He
rose to honour the toast; and, carefully depositing his empty
pipe in a corner, advanced to the table, filled a glass with
spirits, and drank off its contents. Mr. Sikes did the same.

'A drain for the boy,' said Toby, half-filling a wine-glass.
'Down with it, innocence.'

'Indeed,' said Oliver, looking piteously up into the man's face;
'indeed, I--'

'Down with it!' echoed Toby. 'Do you think I don't know what's
good for you? Tell him to drink it, Bill.'

'He had better!' said Sikes clapping his hand upon his pocket.
'Burn my body, if he isn't more trouble than a whole family of
Dodgers. Drink it, you perwerse imp; drink it!'

Frightened by the menacing gestures of the two men, Oliver
hastily swallowed the contents of the glass, and immediately fell
into a violent fit of coughing: which delighted Toby Crackit and
Barney, and even drew a smile from the surly Mr. Sikes.

This done, and Sikes having satisfied his appetite (Oliver could
eat nothing but a small crust of bread which they made him
swallow), the two men laid themselves down on chairs for a short
nap. Oliver retained his stool by the fire; Barney wrapped in a
blanket, stretched himself on the floor: close outside the
fender.

They slept, or appeared to sleep, for some time; nobody stirring
but Barney, who rose once or twice to throw coals on the fire.
Oliver fell into a heavy doze: imagining himself straying along
the gloomy lanes, or wandering about the dark churchyard, or
retracing some one or other of the scenes of the past day: when
he was roused by Toby Crackit jumping up and declaring it was
half-past one.

In an instant, the other two were on their legs, and all were
actively engaged in busy preparation. Sikes and his companion
enveloped their necks and chins in large dark shawls, and drew on
their great-coats; Barney, opening a cupboard, brought forth
several articles, which he hastily crammed into the pockets.

'Barkers for me, Barney,' said Toby Crackit.

'Here they are,' replied Barney, producing a pair of pistols.
'You loaded them yourself.'

'All right!' replied Toby, stowing them away. 'The persuaders?'

'I've got 'em,' replied Sikes.

'Crape, keys, centre-bits, darkies--nothing forgotten?' inquired
Toby: fastening a small crowbar to a loop inside the skirt of
his coat.

'All right,' rejoined his companion. 'Bring them bits of timber,
Barney. That's the time of day.'

With these words, he took a thick stick from Barney's hands, who,
having delivered another to Toby, busied himself in fastening on
Oliver's cape.

'Now then!' said Sikes, holding out his hand.

Oliver: who was completely stupified by the unwonted exercise,
and the air, and the drink which had been forced upon him: put
his hand mechanically into that which Sikes extended for the
purpose.

'Take his other hand, Toby,' said Sikes. 'Look out, Barney.'

The man went to the door, and returned to announce that all was
quiet. The two robbers issued forth with Oliver between them.
Barney, having made all fast, rolled himself up as before, and
was soon asleep again.

It was now intensely dark. The fog was much heavier than it had
been in the early part of the night; and the atmosphere was so
damp, that, although no rain fell, Oliver's hair and eyebrows,
within a few minutes after leaving the house, had become stiff
with the half-frozen moisture that was floating about. They
crossed the bridge, and kept on towards the lights which he had
seen before. They were at no great distance off; and, as they
walked pretty briskly, they soon arrived at Chertsey.

'Slap through the town,' whispered Sikes; 'there'll be nobody in
the way, to-night, to see us.'

Toby acquiesced; and they hurried through the main street of the
little town, which at that late hour was wholly deserted. A dim
light shone at intervals from some bed-room window; and the
hoarse barking of dogs occasionally broke the silence of the
night. But there was nobody abroad. They had cleared the town,
as the church-bell struck two.

Quickening their pace, they turned up a road upon the left hand.
After walking about a quarter of a mile, they stopped before a
detached house surrounded by a wall: to the top of which, Toby
Crackit, scarcely pausing to take breath, climbed in a twinkling.

'The boy next,' said Toby. 'Hoist him up; I'll catch hold of
him.'

Before Oliver had time to look round, Sikes had caught him under
the arms; and in three or four seconds he and Toby were lying on
the grass on the other side. Sikes followed directly. And they
stole cautiously towards the house.

And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief and
terror, saw that housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were
the objects of the expedition. He clasped his hands together,
and involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. A
mist came before his eyes; the cold sweat stood upon his ashy
face; his limbs failed him; and he sank upon his knees.

'Get up!' murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing the
pistol from his pocket; 'Get up, or I'll strew your brains upon
the grass.'

'Oh! for God's sake let me go!' cried Oliver; 'let me run away
and die in the fields. I will never come near London; never,
never! Oh! pray have mercy on me, and do not make me steal. For
the love of all the bright Angels that rest in Heaven, have mercy
upon me!'

The man to whom this appeal was made, swore a dreadful oath, and
had cocked the pistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp,
placed his hand upon the boy's mouth, and dragged him to the
house.

'Hush!' cried the man; 'it won't answer here. Say another word,
and I'll do your business myself with a crack on the head. That
makes no noise, and is quite as certain, and more genteel. Here,
Bill, wrench the shutter open. He's game enough now, I'll
engage. I've seen older hands of his age took the same way, for
a minute or two, on a cold night.'

Sikes, invoking terrific imprecations upon Fagin's head for
sending Oliver on such an errand, plied the crowbar vigorously,
but with little noise. After some delay, and some assistance
from Toby, the shutter to which he had referred, swung open on
its hinges.

It was a little lattice window, about five feet and a half above
the ground, at the back of the house: which belonged to a
scullery, or small brewing-place, at the end of the passage. The
aperture was so small, that the inmates had probably not thought
it worth while to defend it more securely; but it was large
enough to admit a boy of Oliver's size, nevertheless. A very
brief exercise of Mr. Sike's art, sufficed to overcome the
fastening of the lattice; and it soon stood wide open also.

'Now listen, you young limb,' whispered Sikes, drawing a dark
lantern from his pocket, and throwing the glare full on Oliver's
face; 'I'm a going to put you through there. Take this light; go
softly up the steps straight afore you, and along the little
hall, to the street door; unfasten it, and let us in.'

'There's a bolt at the top, you won't be able to reach,'
interposed Toby. 'Stand upon one of the hall chairs. There are
three there, Bill, with a jolly large blue unicorn and gold
pitchfork on 'em: which is the old lady's arms.'

'Keep quiet, can't you?' replied Sikes, with a threatening look.
'The room-door is open, is it?'

'Wide,' repied Toby, after peeping in to satisfy himself. 'The
game of that is, that they always leave it open with a catch, so
that the dog, who's got a bed in here, may walk up and down the
passage when he feels wakeful. Ha! ha! Barney 'ticed him away
to-night. So neat!'

Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and
laughed without noise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to be
silent, and to get to work. Toby complied, by first producing
his lantern, and placing it on the ground; then by planting
himself firmly with his head against the wall beneath the window,
and his hands upon his knees, so as to make a step of his back.
This was no sooner done, than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oiver
gently through the window with his feet first; and, without
leaving hold of his collar, planted him safely on the floor
inside.

'Take this lantern,' said Sikes, looking into the room. 'You see
the stairs afore you?'

Oliver, more dead than alive, gasped out, 'Yes.' Sikes, pointing
to the street-door with the pistol-barrel, briefly advised him to
take notice that he was within shot all the way; and that if he
faltered, he would fall dead that instant.

'It's done in a minute,' said Sikes, in the same low whisper.
'Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!'

'What's that?' whispered the other man.

They listened intently.

'Nothing,' said Sikes, releasing his hold of Oliver. 'Now!'

In the short time he had had to collect his senses, the boy had
firmly resolved that, whether he died in the attempt or not, he
would make one effort to dart upstairs from the hall, and alarm
the family. Filled with this idea, he advanced at once, but
stealthiy.

'Come back!' suddenly cried Sikes aloud. 'Back! back!'

Scared by the sudden breaking of the dead stillness of the place,
and by a loud cry which followed it, Oliver let his lantern fall,
and knew not whether to advance or fly.

The cry was repeated--a light appeared--a vision of two terrified
half-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes--a
flash--a loud noise--a smoke--a crash somewhere, but where he
knew not,--and he staggered back.

Sikes had disappeared for an instant; but he was up again, and
had him by the collar before the smoke had cleared away. He
fired his own pistol after the men, who were already retreating;
and dragged the boy up.

'Clasp your arm tighter,' said Sikes, as he drew him through the
window. 'Give me a shawl here. They've hit him. Quick! How
the boy bleeds!'

Then came the loud ringing of a bell, mingled with the noise of
fire-arms, and the shouts of men, and the sensation of being
carried over uneven ground at a rapid pace. And then, the noises
grew confused in the distance; and a cold deadly feeling crept
over the boy's heart; and he saw or heard no more.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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