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CHAPTER XLII

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE OF OLIVER'S, EXHIBITING DECIDED MARKS OF
GENIUS, BECOMES A PUBLIC CHARACTER IN THE METROPOLIS

Upon the night when Nancy, having lulled Mr. Sikes to sleep,
hurried on her self-imposed mission to Rose Maylie, there
advanced towards London, by the Great North Road, two persons,
upon whom it is expedient that this history should bestow some
attention.

They were a man and woman; or perhaps they would be better
described as a male and female: for the former was one of those
long-limbed, knock-kneed, shambling, bony people, to whom it is
difficult to assign any precise age,--looking as they do, when
they are yet boys, like undergrown men, and when they are almost
men, like overgrown boys. The woman was young, but of a robust
and hardy make, as she need have been to bear the weight of the
heavy bundle which was strapped to her back. Her companion was
not encumbered with much luggage, as there merely dangled from a
stick which he carried over his shoulder, a small parcel wrapped
in a common handkerchief, and apparently light enough. This
circumstance, added to the length of his legs, which were of
unusual extent, enabled him with much ease to keep some
half-dozen paces in advance of his companion, to whom he
occasionally turned with an impatient jerk of the head: as if
reproaching her tardiness, and urging her to greater exertion.

Thus, they had toiled along the dusty road, taking little heed of
any object within sight, save when they stepped aside to allow a
wider passage for the mail-coaches which were whirling out of
town, until they passed through Highgate archway; when the
foremost traveller stopped and called impatiently to his
companion,

'Come on, can't yer? What a lazybones yer are, Charlotte.'

'It's a heavy load, I can tell you,' said the female, coming up,
almost breathless with fatigue.

'Heavy! What are yer talking about? What are yer made for?'
rejoined the male traveller, changing his own little bundle as he
spoke, to the other shoulder. 'Oh, there yer are, resting again!

Well, if yer ain't enough to tire anybody's patience out, I don't
know what is!'

'Is it much farther?' asked the woman, resting herself against a
bank, and looking up with the perspiration streaming from her
face.

'Much farther! Yer as good as there,' said the long-legged
tramper, pointing out before him. 'Look there! Those are the
lights of London.'

'They're a good two mile off, at least,' said the woman
despondingly.

'Never mind whether they're two mile off, or twenty,' said Noah
Claypole; for he it was; 'but get up and come on, or I'll kick
yer, and so I give yer notice.'

As Noah's red nose grew redder with anger, and as he crossed the
road while speaking, as if fully prepared to put his threat into
execution, the woman rose without any further remark, and trudged
onward by his side.

'Where do you mean to stop for the night, Noah?' she asked, after
they had walked a few hundred yards.

'How should I know?' replied Noah, whose temper had been
considerably impaired by walking.

'Near, I hope,' said Charlotte.

'No, not near,' replied Mr. Claypole. 'There! Not near; so
don't think it.'

'Why not?'

'When I tell yer that I don't mean to do a thing, that's enough,
without any why or because either,' replied Mr. Claypole with
dignity.

'Well, you needn't be so cross,' said his companion.

'A pretty thing it would be, wouldn't it to go and stop at the
very first public-house outside the town, so that Sowerberry, if
he come up after us, might poke in his old nose, and have us
taken back in a cart with handcuffs on,' said Mr. Claypole in a
jeering tone. 'No! I shall go and lose myself among the
narrowest streets I can find, and not stop till we come to the
very out-of-the-wayest house I can set eyes on. 'Cod, yer may
thanks yer stars I've got a head; for if we hadn't gone, at
first, the wrong road a purpose, and come back across country,
yer'd have been locked up hard and fast a week ago, my lady. And
serve yer right for being a fool.'

'I know I ain't as cunning as you are,' replied Charlotte; 'but
don't put all the blame on me, and say I should have been locked
up. You would have been if I had been, any way.'

'Yer took the money from the till, yer know yer did,' said Mr.
Claypole.

'I took it for you, Noah, dear,' rejoined Charlotte.

'Did I keep it?' asked Mr. Claypole.

'No; you trusted in me, and let me carry it like a dear, and so
you are,' said the lady, chucking him under the chin, and drawing
her arm through his.

This was indeed the case; but as it was not Mr. Claypole's habit
to repose a blind and foolish confidence in anybody, it should be
observed, in justice to that gentleman, that he had trusted
Charlotte to this extent, in order that, if they were pursued,
the money might be found on her: which would leave him an
opportunity of asserting his innocence of any theft, and would
greatly facilitate his chances of escape. Of course, he entered
at this juncture, into no explanation of his motives, and they
walked on very lovingly together.

In pursuance of this cautious plan, Mr. Claypole went on, without
halting, until he arrived at the Angel at Islington, where he
wisely judged, from the crowd of passengers and numbers of
vehicles, that London began in earnest. Just pausing to observe
which appeared the most crowded streets, and consequently the
most to be avoided, he crossed into Saint John's Road, and was
soon deep in the obscurity of the intricate and dirty ways,
which, lying between Gray's Inn Lane and Smithfield, render that
part of the town one of the lowest and worst that improvement has
left in the midst of London.

Through these streets, Noah Claypole walked, dragging Charlotte
after him; now stepping into the kennel to embrace at a glance
the whole external character of some small public-house; now
jogging on again, as some fancied appearance induced him to
believe it too public for his purpose. At length, he stopped in
front of one, more humble in appearance and more dirty than any
he had yet seen; and, having crossed over and surveyed it from
the opposite pavement, graciously announced his intention of
putting up there, for the night.

'So give us the bundle,' said Noah, unstrapping it from the
woman's shoulders, and slinging it over his own; 'and don't yer
speak, except when yer spoke to. What's the name of the
house--t-h-r--three what?'

'Cripples,' said Charlotte.

'Three Cripples,' repeated Noah, 'and a very good sign too. Now,
then! Keep close at my heels, and come along.' With these
injunctions, he pushed the rattling door with his shoulder, and
entered the house, followed by his companion.

There was nobody in the bar but a young Jew, who, with his two
elbows on the counter, was reading a dirty newspaper. He stared
very hard at Noah, and Noah stared very hard at him.

If Noah had been attired in his charity-boy's dress, there might
have been some reason for the Jew opening his eyes so wide; but
as he had discarded the coat and badge, and wore a short
smock-frock over his leathers, there seemed no particular reason
for his appearance exciting so much attention in a public-house.

'Is this the Three Cripples?' asked Noah.

'That is the dabe of this 'ouse,' replied the Jew.

'A gentleman we met on the road, coming up from the country,
recommended us here,' said Noah, nudging Charlotte, perhaps to
call her attention to this most ingenious device for attracting
respect, and perhaps to warn her to betray no surprise. 'We want
to sleep here to-night.'

'I'b dot certaid you cad,' said Barney, who was the attendant
sprite; 'but I'll idquire.'

'Show us the tap, and give us a bit of cold meat and a drop of
beer while yer inquiring, will yer?' said Noah.

Barney complied by ushering them into a small back-room, and
setting the required viands before them; having done which, he
informed the travellers that they could be lodged that night, and
left the amiable couple to their refreshment.

Now, this back-room was immediately behind the bar, and some
steps lower, so that any person connected with the house,
undrawing a small curtain which concealed a single pane of glass
fixed in the wall of the last-named apartment, about five feet
from its flooring, could not only look down upon any guests in
the back-room without any great hazard of being observed (the
glass being in a dark angle of the wall, between which and a
large upright beam the observer had to thrust himself), but
could, by applying his ear to the partition, ascertain with
tolerable distinctness, their subject of conversation. The
landlord of the house had not withdrawn his eye from this place
of espial for five minutes, and Barney had only just returned
from making the communication above related, when Fagin, in the
course of his evening's business, came into the bar to inquire
after some of his young pupils.

'Hush!' said Barney: 'stradegers id the next roob.'

'Strangers!' repeated the old man in a whisper.

'Ah! Ad rub uds too,' added Barney. 'Frob the cuttry, but
subthig in your way, or I'b bistaked.'

Fagin appeared to receive this communication with great interest.

Mounting a stool, he cautiously applied his eye to the pane of
glass, from which secret post he could see Mr. Claypole taking
cold beef from the dish, and porter from the pot, and
administering homoepathic doses of both to Charlotte, who sat
patiently by, eating and drinking at his pleasure.

'Aha!' he whispered, looking round to Barney, 'I like that
fellow's looks. He'd be of use to us; he knows how to train the
girl already. Don't make as much noise as a mouse, my dear, and
let me hear 'em talk--let me hear 'em.'

He again applied his eye to the glass, and turning his ear to the
partition, listened attentively: with a subtle and eager look
upon his face, that might have appertained to some old goblin.

'So I mean to be a gentleman,' said Mr. Claypole, kicking out his
legs, and continuing a conversation, the commencement of which
Fagin had arrived too late to hear. 'No more jolly old coffins,
Charlotte, but a gentleman's life for me: and, if yer like, yer
shall be a lady.'

'I should like that well enough, dear,' replied Charlotte; 'but
tills ain't to be emptied every day, and people to get clear off
after it.'

'Tills be blowed!' said Mr. Claypole; 'there's more things
besides tills to be emptied.'

'What do you mean?' asked his companion.

'Pockets, women's ridicules, houses, mail-coaches, banks!' said
Mr. Claypole, rising with the porter.

'But you can't do all that, dear,' said Charlotte.

'I shall look out to get into company with them as can,' replied
Noah. 'They'll be able to make us useful some way or another.
Why, you yourself are worth fifty women; I never see such a
precious sly and deceitful creetur as yer can be when I let yer.'

'Lor, how nice it is to hear yer say so!' exclaimed Charlotte,
imprinting a kiss upon his ugly face.

'There, that'll do: don't yer be too affectionate, in case I'm
cross with yer,' said Noah, disengaging himself with great
gravity. 'I should like to be the captain of some band, and have
the whopping of 'em, and follering 'em about, unbeknown to
themselves. That would suit me, if there was good profit; and if
we could only get in with some gentleman of this sort, I say it
would be cheap at that twenty-pound note you've got,--especially
as we don't very well know how to get rid of it ourselves.'

After expressing this opinion, Mr. Claypole looked into the
porter-pot with an aspect of deep wisdom; and having well shaken
its contents, nodded condescendingly to Charlotte, and took a
draught, wherewith he appeared greatly refreshed. He was
meditating another, when the sudden opening of the door, and the
appearance of a stranger, interrupted him.

The stranger was Mr. Fagin. And very amiable he looked, and a
very low bow he made, as he advanced, and setting himself down at
the nearest table, ordered something to drink of the grinning
Barney.

'A pleasant night, sir, but cool for the time of year,' said
Fagin, rubbing his hands. 'From the country, I see, sir?'

'How do yer see that?' asked Noah Claypole.

'We have not so much dust as that in London,' replied Fagin,
pointing from Noah's shoes to those of his companion, and from
them to the two bundles.

'Yer a sharp feller,' said Noah. 'Ha! ha! only hear that,
Charlotte!'

'Why, one need be sharp in this town, my dear,' replied the Jew,
sinking his voice to a confidential whisper; 'and that's the
truth.'

Fagin followed up this remark by striking the side of his nose
with his right forefinger,--a gesture which Noah attempted to
imitate, though not with complete success, in consequence of his
own nose not being large enough for the purpose. However, Mr.
Fagin seemed to interpret the endeavour as expressing a perfect
coincidence with his opinion, and put about the liquor which
Barney reappeared with, in a very friendly manner.

'Good stuff that,' observed Mr. Claypole, smacking his lips.

'Dear!' said Fagin. 'A man need be always emptying a till, or a
pocket, or a woman's reticule, or a house, or a mail-coach, or a
bank, if he drinks it regularly.'

Mr. Claypole no sooner heard this extract from his own remarks
than he fell back in his chair, and looked from the Jew to
Charlotte with a countenance of ashy palences and excessive
terror.

'Don't mind me, my dear,' said Fagin, drawing his chair closer.
'Ha! ha! it was lucky it was only me that heard you by chance.
It was very lucky it was only me.'

'I didn't take it,' stammered Noah, no longer stretching out his
legs like an independent gentleman, but coiling them up as well
as he could under his chair; 'it was all her doing; yer've got it
now, Charlotte, yer know yer have.'

'No matter who's got it, or who did it, my dear,' replied Fagin,
glancing, nevertheless, with a hawk's eye at the girl and the two
bundles. 'I'm in that way myself, and I like you for it.'

'In what way?' asked Mr. Claypole, a little recovering.

'In that way of business,' rejoined Fagin; 'and so are the people
of the house. You've hit the right nail upon the head, and are
as safe here as you could be. There is not a safer place in all
this town than is the Cripples; that is, when I like to make it
so. And I have taken a fancy to you and the young woman; so I've
said the word, and you may make your minds easy.'

Noah Claypole's mind might have been at ease after this
assurance, but his body certainly was not; for he shuffled and
writhed about, into various uncouth positions: eyeing his new
friend meanwhile with mingled fear and suspicion.

'I'll tell you more,' said Fagin, after he had reassured the
girl, by dint of friendly nods and muttered encouragements. 'I
have got a friend that I think can gratify your darling wish, and
put you in the right way, where you can take whatever department
of the business you think will suit you best at first, and be
taught all the others.'

'Yer speak as if yer were in earnest,' replied Noah.

'What advantage would it be to me to be anything else?' inquired
Fagin, shrugging his shoulders. 'Here! Let me have a word with
you outside.'

'There's no occasion to trouble ourselves to move,' said Noah,
getting his legs by gradual degrees abroad again. 'She'll take
the luggage upstairs the while. Charlotte, see to them bundles.'

This mandate, which had been delivered with great majesty, was
obeyed without the slightest demur; and Charlotte made the best
of her way off with the packages while Noah held the door open
and watched her out.

'She's kept tolerably well under, ain't she?' he asked as he
resumed his seat: in the tone of a keeper who had tamed some
wild animal.

'Quite perfect,' rejoined Fagin, clapping him on the shoulder.
'You're a genius, my dear.'

'Why, I suppose if I wasn't, I shouldn't be here,' replied Noah.
'But, I say, she'll be back if yer lose time.'

'Now, what do you think?' said Fagin. 'If you was to like my
friend, could you do better than join him?'

'Is he in a good way of business; that's where it is!' responded
Noah, winking one of his little eyes.

'The top of the tree; employs a power of hands; has the very best
society in the profession.'

'Regular town-maders?' asked Mr. Claypole.

'Not a countryman among 'em; and I don't think he'd take you,
even on my recommendation, if he didn't run rather short of
assistants just now,' replied Fagin.

'Should I have to hand over?' said Noah, slapping his
breeches-pocket.

'It couldn't possibly be done without,' replied Fagin, in a most
decided manner.

'Twenty pound, though--it's a lot of money!'

'Not when it's in a note you can't get rid of,' retorted Fagin.
'Number and date taken, I suppose? Payment stopped at the Bank?
Ah! It's not worth much to him. It'll have to go abroad, and he
couldn't sell it for a great deal in the market.'

'When could I see him?' asked Noah doubtfully.

'To-morrow morning.'

'Where?'

'Here.'

'Um!' said Noah. 'What's the wages?'

'Live like a gentleman--board and lodging, pipes and spirits
free--half of all you earn, and half of all the young woman
earns,' replied Mr. Fagin.

Whether Noah Claypole, whose rapacity was none of the least
comprehensive, would have acceded even to these glowing terms,
had he been a perfectly free agent, is very doubtful; but as he
recollected that, in the event of his refusal, it was in the
power of his new acquaintance to give him up to justice
immediately (and more unlikely things had come to pass), he
gradually relented, and said he thought that would suit him.

'But, yer see,' observed Noah, 'as she will be able to do a good
deal, I should like to take something very light.'

'A little fancy work?' suggested Fagin.

'Ah! something of that sort,' replied Noah. 'What do you think
would suit me now? Something not too trying for the strength,
and not very dangerous, you know. That's the sort of thing!'

'I heard you talk of something in the spy way upon the others, my
dear,' said Fagin. 'My friend wants somebody who would do that
well, very much.'

'Why, I did mention that, and I shouldn't mind turning my hand to
it sometimes,' rejoined Mr. Claypole slowly; 'but it wouldn't pay
by itself, you know.'

'That's true!' observed the Jew, ruminating or pretending to
ruminate. 'No, it might not.'

'What do you think, then?' asked Noah, anxiously regarding him.
'Something in the sneaking way, where it was pretty sure work,
and not much more risk than being at home.'

'What do you think of the old ladies?' asked Fagin. 'There's a
good deal of money made in snatching their bags and parcels, and
running round the corner.'

'Don't they holler out a good deal, and scratch sometimes?' asked
Noah, shaking his head. 'I don't think that would answer my
purpose. Ain't there any other line open?'

'Stop!' said Fagin, laying his hand on Noah's knee. 'The kinchin
lay.'

'The kinchins, my dear,' said Fagin, 'is the young children
that's sent on errands by their mothers, with sixpences and
shillings; and the lay is just to take their money away--they've
always got it ready in their hands,--then knock 'em into the
kennel, and walk off very slow, as if there were nothing else the
matter but a child fallen down and hurt itself. Ha! ha! ha!'

'Ha! ha!' roared Mr. Claypole, kicking up his legs in an ecstasy.

'Lord, that's the very thing!'

'To be sure it is,' replied Fagin; 'and you can have a few good
beats chalked out in Camden Town, and Battle Bridge, and
neighborhoods like that, where they're always going errands; and
you can upset as many kinchins as you want, any hour in the day.
Ha! ha! ha!'

With this, Fagin poked Mr. Claypole in the side, and they joined
in a burst of laughter both long and loud.

'Well, that's all right!' said Noah, when he had recovered
himself, and Charlotte had returned. 'What time to-morrow shall
we say?'

'Will ten do?' asked Fagin, adding, as Mr. Claypole nodded
assent, 'What name shall I tell my good friend.'

'Mr. Bolter,' replied Noah, who had prepared himself for such
emergency. 'Mr. Morris Bolter. This is Mrs. Bolter.'

'Mrs. Bolter's humble servant,' said Fagin, bowing with grotesque
politeness. 'I hope I shall know her better very shortly.'

'Do you hear the gentleman, Charlotte?' thundered Mr. Claypole.

'Yes, Noah, dear!' replied Mrs. Bolter, extending her hand.

'She calls me Noah, as a sort of fond way of talking,' said Mr.
Morris Bolter, late Claypole, turning to Fagin. 'You
understand?'

'Oh yes, I understand--perfectly,' replied Fagin, telling the
truth for once. 'Good-night! Good-night!'

With many adieus and good wishes, Mr. Fagin went his way. Noah
Claypole, bespeaking his good lady's attention, proceeded to
enlighten her relative to the arrangement he had made, with all
that haughtiness and air of superiority, becoming, not only a
member of the sterner sex, but a gentleman who appreciated the
dignity of a special appointment on the kinchin lay, in London
and its vicinity.





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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