Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens



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suffering, and had suffered too much where he was, to bewail the
prospect of change very severely. He remained lost in thought
for some minutes; and then, with a heavy sigh, snuffed the
candle, and, taking up the book which the Jew had left with him,
began to read.

He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on


a passage which attracted his attention, he soon became intent
upon the volume. It was a history of the lives and trials of
great criminals; and the pages were soiled and thumbed with use.
Here, he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood run cold; of
secret murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; of
bodies hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which
would not keep them down, deep as they were, but had yielded them
up at last, after many years, and so maddened the murderers with
the sight, that in their horror they had confessed their guilt,
and yelled for the gibbet to end their agony. Here, too, he read
of men who, lying in their beds at dead of night, had been
tempted (so they said) and led on, by their own bad thoughts, to
such dreadful bloodshed as it made the flesh creep, and the limbs
quail, to think of. The terrible descriptions were so real and
vivid, that the sallow pages seemed to turn red with gore; and
the words upon them, to be sounded in his ears, as if they were
whispered, in hollow murmers, by the spirits of the dead.

In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it


from him. Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to
spare him from such deeds; and rather to will that he should die
at once, than be reserved for crimes, so fearful and appaling.
By degrees, he grew more calm, and besought, in a low and broken
voice, that he might be rescued from his present dangers; and
that if any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who
had never known the love of friends or kindred, it might come to
him now, when, desolate and deserted, he stood alone in the midst
of wickedness and guilt.

He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head


buried in his hands, when a rustling noise aroused him.

'What's that!' he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a


figure standing by the door. 'Who's there?'

'Me. Only me,' replied a tremulous voice.

Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the
door. It was Nancy.

'Put down the light,' said the girl, turning away her head. 'It


hurts my eyes.'

Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she


were ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back
towards him: and wrung her hands; but made no reply.

'God forgive me!' she cried after a while, 'I never thought of


this.'

'Has anything happened?' asked Oliver. 'Can I help you? I will


if I can. I will, indeed.'

She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a


gurgling sound, gasped for breath.

'Nancy!' cried Oliver, 'What is it?'

The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the
ground; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her:
and shivered with cold.

Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat


there, for a little time, without speaking; but at length she
raised her head, and looked round.

'I don't know what comes over me sometimes,' said she, affecting


to busy herself in arranging her dress; 'it's this damp dirty
room, I think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?'

'Am I to go with you?' asked Oliver.

'Yes. I have come from Bill,' replied the girl. 'You are to go
with me.'

'What for?' asked Oliver, recoiling.

'What for?' echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them
again, the moment they encountered the boy's face. 'Oh! For no
harm.'

'I don't believe it,' said Oliver: who had watched her closely.

'Have it your own way,' rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh.
'For no good, then.'

Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl's better


feelings, and, for an instant, thought of appealing to her
compassion for his helpless state. But, then, the thought darted
across his mind that it was barely eleven o'clock; and that many
people were still in the streets: of whom surely some might be
found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured to
him, he stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was
ready.

Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his


companion. She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon
him a look of intelligence which sufficiently showed that she
guessed what had been passing in his thoughts.

'Hush!' said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the


door as she looked cautiously round. 'You can't help yourself. I
have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged
round and round. If ever you are to get loose from here, this is
not the time.'

Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face


with great surprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her
countenance was white and agitated; and she trembled with very
earnestness.

'I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and


I do now,' continued the girl aloud; 'for those who would have
fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than
me. I have promised for your being quiet and silent; if you are
not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too, and perhaps be
my death. See here! I have borne all this for you already, as
true as God sees me show it.'

She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms;


and continued, with great rapidity:

'Remember this! And don't let me suffer more for you, just now.


If I could help you, I would; but I have not the power. They
don't mean to harm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of
yours. Hush! Every word from you is a blow for me. Give me
your hand. Make haste! Your hand!

She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers,


and, blowing out the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The
door was opened, quickly, by some one shrouded in the darkness,
and was as quickly closed, when they had passed out. A
hackney-cabriolet was in waiting; with the same vehemence which
she had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in
with her, and drew the curtains close. The driver wanted no
directions, but lashed his horse into full speed, without the
delay of an instant.

The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to


pour into his ear, the warnings and assurances she had already
imparted. All was so quick and hurried, that he had scarcely
time to recollect where he was, or how he came there, when to
carriage stopped at the house to which the Jew's steps had been
directed on the previous evening.

For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the


empty street, and a cry for help hung upon his lips. But the
girl's voice was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of
agony to remember her, that he had not the heart to utter it.
While he hesitated, the opportunity was gone; he was already in
the house, and the door was shut.

'This way,' said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time.

'Bill!'

'Hallo!' replied Sikes: appearing at the head of the stairs, with


a candle. 'Oh! That's the time of day. Come on!'

This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly


hearty welcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes' temperament. Nancy,
appearing much gratified thereby, saluted him cordially.

'Bull's-eye's gone home with Tom,' observed Sikes, as he lighted


them up. 'He'd have been in the way.'

'That's right,' rejoined Nancy.

'So you've got the kid,' said Sikes when they had all reached the
room: closing the door as he spoke.

'Yes, here he is,' replied Nancy.

'Did he come quiet?' inquired Sikes.

'Like a lamb,' rejoined Nancy.

'I'm glad to hear it,' said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver; 'for
the sake of his young carcase: as would otherways have suffered
for it. Come here, young 'un; and let me read you a lectur',
which is as well got over at once.'

Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver's cap


and threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder,
sat himself down by the table, and stood the boy in front of him.

'Now, first: do you know wot this is?' inquired Sikes, taking up


a pocket-pistol which lay on the table.

Oliver replied in the affirmative.

'Well, then, look here,' continued Sikes. 'This is powder; that
'ere's a bullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for
waddin'.'

Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies


referred to; and Mr. Sikes proceeded to load the pistol, with
great nicety and deliberation.

'Now it's loaded,' said Mr. Sikes, when he had finished.

'Yes, I see it is, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Well,' said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist, and putting the


barrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which moment
the boy could not repress a start; 'if you speak a word when
you're out o' doors with me, except when I speak to you, that
loading will be in your head without notice. So, if you DO make
up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first.'

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to


increase its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.

'As near as I know, there isn't anybody as would be asking very


partickler arter you, if you WAS disposed of; so I needn't take
this devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if it
warn't for you own good. D'ye hear me?'

'The short and the long of what you mean,' said Nancy: speaking


very emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to
bespeak his serious attention to her words: 'is, that if you're
crossed by him in this job you have on hand, you'll prevent his
ever telling tales afterwards, by shooting him through the head,
and will take your chance of swinging for it, as you do for a
great many other things in the way of business, every month of
your life.'

'That's it!' observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; 'women can always


put things in fewest words.-- Except when it's blowing up; and
then they lengthens it out. And now that he's thoroughly up to
it, let's have some supper, and get a snooze before starting.'

In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth;


disappearing for a few minutes, she presently returned with a pot
of porter and a dish of sheep's heads: which gave occasion to
several pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr. Sikes, founded
upon the singular coincidence of 'jemmies' being a can name,
common to them, and also to an ingenious implement much used in
his profession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps
by the immediate prospect of being on active service, was in
great spirits and good humour; in proof whereof, it may be here
remarked, that he humourously drank all the beer at a draught,
and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than four-score
oaths during the whole progress of the meal.

Supper being ended--it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no


great appetite for it--Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses
of spirits and water, and threw himself on the bed; ordering
Nancy, with many imprecations in case of failure, to call him at
five precisely. Oliver stretched himself in his clothes, by
command of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; and
the girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse
them at the appointed time.

For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that


Nancy might seek that opportunity of whispering some further
advice; but the girl sat brooding over the fire, without moving,
save now and then to trim the light. Weary with watching and
anxiety, he at length fell asleep.

When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikes


was thrusting various articles into the pockets of his
great-coat, which hung over the back of a chair. Nancy was
busily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not yet daylight;
for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside.
A sharp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes; and the
sky looked black and cloudy.

'Now, then!' growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; 'half-past


five! Look sharp, or you'll get no breakfast; for it's late as
it is.'

Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken some


breakfast, he replied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by saying
that he was quite ready.

Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief to


tie round his throat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button
over his shoulders. Thus attired, he gave his hand to the
robber, who, merely pausing to show him with a menacing gesture
that he had that same pistol in a side-pocket of his great-coat,
clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy,
led him away.

Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in the


hope of meeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed her
old seat in front of the fire, and sat, perfectly motionless
before it.

CHAPTER XXI

THE EXPEDITION

It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street; blowing


and raining hard; and the clouds looking dull and stormy. The
night had been very wet: large pools of water had collected in
the road: and the kennels were overflowing. There was a faint
glimmering of the coming day in the sky; but it rather aggrevated
than relieved the gloom of the scene: the sombre light only
serving to pale that which the street lamps afforded, without
shedding any warmer or brighter tints upon the wet house-tops,
and dreary streets. There appeared to be nobody stirring in that
quarter of the town; the windows of the houses were all closely
shut; and the streets through which they passed, were noiseless
and empty.

By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the day


had fairly begun to break. Many of the lamps were already
extinguished; a few country waggons were slowly toiling on,
towards London; now and then, a stage-coach, covered with mud,
rattled briskly by: the driver bestowing, as he passed, and
admonitory lash upon the heavy waggoner who, by keeping on the
wrong side of the road, had endangered his arriving at the
office, a quarter of a minute after his time. The public-houses,
with gas-lights burning inside, were already open. By degrees,
other shops began to be unclosed, and a few scattered people were
met with. Then, came straggling groups of labourers going to
their work; then, men and women with fish-baskets on their heads;
donkey-carts laden with vegetables; chaise-carts filled with
live-stock or whole carcasses of meat; milk-women with pails; an
unbroken concourse of people, trudging out with various supplies
to the eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached the City,
the noise and traffic gradually increased; when they threaded the
streets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled into a
roar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely to
be, till night came on again, and the busy morning of half the
London population had begun.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury


square, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into
Barbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; from
which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that
filled Oliver Twist with amazement.

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly


ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually
rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with
the fog, which seemd to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily
above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many
temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were
filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long
lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen,
butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds
of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the
whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and
plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and
squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and
quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of
voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding,
pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and
discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market;
and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figues constantly
running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng;
rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite
confounded the senses.

Mr. Sikes, dragging Oliver after him, elbowed his way through the


thickest of the crowd, and bestowed very little attention on the
numerous sights and sounds, which so astonished the boy. He
nodded, twice or thrice, to a passing friend; and, resisting as
many invitations to take a morning dram, pressed steadily onward,
until they were clear of the turmoil, and had made their way
through Hosier Lane into Holborn.

'Now, young 'un!' said Sikes, looking up at the clock of St.


Andrew's Church, 'hard upon seven! you must step out. Come,
don't lag behind already, Lazy-legs!'

Mr. Sikes accompanied this speech with a jerk at his little


companion's wrist; Oliver, quickening his pace into a kind of
trot between a fast walk and a run, kept up with the rapid
strides of the house-breaker as well as he could.

They held their course at this rate, until they had passed Hyde


Park corner, and were on their way to Kensington: when Sikes
relaxed his pace, until an empty cart which was at some little
distance behind, came up. Seeing 'Hounslow' written on it, he
asked the driver with as much civility as he could assume, if he
would give them a lift as far as Isleworth.

'Jump up,' said the man. 'Is that your boy?'

'Yes; he's my boy,' replied Sikes, looking hard at Oliver, and
putting his hand abstractedly into the pocket where the pistol
was.

'Your father walks rather too quick for you, don't he, my man?'


inquired the driver: seeing that Oliver was out of breath.

'Not a bit of it,' replied Sikes, interposing. 'He's used to it.

Here, take hold of my hand, Ned. In with you!'

Thus addressing Oliver, he helped him into the cart; and the


driver, pointing to a heap of sacks, told him to lie down there,
and rest himself.

As they passed the different mile-stones, Oliver wondered, more


and more, where his companion meant to take him. Kensington,
Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentford, were all passed;
and yet they went on as steadily as if they had only just begun
their journey. At length, they came to a public-house called the
Coach and Horses; a little way beyond which, another road
appeared to run off. And here, the cart stopped.

Sikes dismounted with great precipitation, holding Oliver by the


hand all the while; and lifting him down directly, bestowed a
furious look upon him, and rapped the side-pocket with his fist,
in a significant manner.

'Good-bye, boy,' said the man.

'He's sulky,' replied Sikes, giving him a shake; 'he's sulky. A
young dog! Don't mind him.'

'Not I!' rejoined the other, getting into his cart. 'It's a fine


day, after all.' And he drove away.

Sikes waited until he had fairly gone; and then, telling Oliver


he might look about him if he wanted, once again led him onward
on his journey.

They turned round to the left, a short way past the public-house;


and then, taking a right-hand road, walked on for a long time:
passing many large gardens and gentlemen's houses on both sides
of the way, and stopping for nothing but a little beer, until
they reached a town. Here against the wall of a house, Oliver
saw written up in pretty large letters, 'Hampton.' They lingered
about, in the fields, for some hours. At length they came back
into the town; and, turning into an old public-house with a
defaced sign-board, ordered some dinner by the kitchen fire.

The kitchen was an old, low-roofed room; with a great beam across


the middle of the ceiling, and benches, with high backs to them,
by the fire; on which were seated several rough men in
smock-frocks, drinking and smoking. They took no notice of
Oliver; and very little of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very little
notice of the, he and his young comrade sat in a corner by
themselves, without being much troubled by their company.

They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat so long after it,


while Mr. Sikes indulged himself with three or four pipes, that
Oliver began to feel quite certain they were not going any
further. Being much tired with the walk, and getting up so
early, he dozed a little at first; then, quite overpowered by
fatigue and the fumes of the tobacco, fell asleep.

It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes.


Rousing himself sufficiently to sit up and look about him, he
found that worthy in close fellowship and communication with a
labouring man, over a pint of ale.

'So, you're going on to Lower Halliford, are you?' inquired


Sikes.

'Yes, I am,' replied the man, who seemed a little the worse--or


better, as the case might be--for drinking; 'and not slow about
it neither. My horse hasn't got a load behind him going back, as
he had coming up in the mornin'; and he won't be long a-doing of
it. Here's luck to him. Ecod! he's a good 'un!'

'Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there?' demanded


Sikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.

'If you're going directly, I can,' replied the man, looking out


of the pot. 'Are you going to Halliford?'

'Going on to Shepperton,' replied Sikes.

'I'm your man, as far as I go,' replied the other. 'Is all paid,
Becky?'

'Yes, the other gentleman's paid,' replied the girl.

'I say!' said the man, with tipsy gravity; 'that won't do, you
know.'

'Why not?' rejoined Sikes. 'You're a-going to accommodate us,


and wot's to prevent my standing treat for a pint or so, in
return?'

The stranger reflected upon this argument, with a very profound


face; having done so, he seized Sikes by the hand: and declared
he was a real good fellow. To which Mr. Sikes replied, he was
joking; as, if he had been sober, there would have been strong
reason to suppose he was.

After the exchange of a few more compliments, they bade the

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