Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens



Download 1.32 Mb.
Page13/34
Date conversion15.05.2018
Size1.32 Mb.
1   ...   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   ...   34

company good-night, and went out; the girl gathering up the pots
and glasses as they did so, and lounging out to the door, with
her hands full, to see the party start.

The horse, whose health had been drunk in his absence, was


standing outside: ready harnessed to the cart. Oliver and Sikes
got in without any further ceremony; and the man to whom he
belonged, having lingered for a minute or two 'to bear him up,'
and to defy the hostler and the world to produce his equal,
mounted also. Then, the hostler was told to give the horse his
head; and, his head being given him, he made a very unpleasant
use of it: tossing it into the air with great disdain, and
running into the parlour windows over the way; after performing
those feats, and supporting himself for a short time on his
hind-legs, he started off at great speed, and rattled out of the
town right gallantly.

The night was very dark. A damp mist rose from the river, and


the marshy ground about; and spread itself over the dreary
fields. It was piercing cold, too; all was gloomy and black.
Not a word was spoken; for the driver had grown sleepy; and Sikes
was in no mood to lead him into conversation. Oliver sat huddled
together, in a corner of the cart; bewildered with alarm and
apprehension; and figuring strange objects in the gaunt trees,
whose branches waved grimly to and fro, as if in some fantastic
joy at the desolation of the scene.

As they passed Sunbury Church, the clock struck seven. There was


a light in the ferry-house window opposite: which streamed
across the road, and threw into more sombre shadow a dark
yew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dull sound of
falling water not far off; and the leaves of the old tree stirred
gently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for the
repose of the dead.

Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonely


road. Two or three miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikes
alighted, took Oliver by the hand, and they once again walked on.

They turned into no house at Shepperton, as the weary boy had


expected; but still kept walking on, in mud and darkness, through
gloomy lanes and over cold open wastes, until they came within
sight of the lights of a town at no great distance. On looking
intently forward, Oliver saw that the water was just below them,
and that they were coming to the foot of a bridge.

Sikes kept straight on, until they were close upon the bridge;


then turned suddenly down a bank upon the left.

'The water!' thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. 'He has


brought me to this lonely place to murder me!'

He was about to throw himself on the ground, and make one


struggle for his young life, when he saw that they stood before a
solitary house: all ruinous and decayed. There was a window on
each side of the dilapidated entrance; and one story above; but
no light was visible. The house was dark, dismantled: and the
all appearance, uninhabited.

Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low


porch, and raised the latch. The door yielded to the pressure,
and they passed in together.

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.

CHAPTER XXIII

WHICH CONTAINS THE SUBSTANCE OF A PLEASANT CONVERSATION BETWEEN
MR. BUMBLE AND A LADY; AND SHOWS THAT EVEN A BEADLE MAY BE
SUSCEPTIBLE ON SOME POINTS

The night was bitter cold. The snow lay on the ground, frozen


into a hard thick crust, so that only the heaps that had drifted
into byways and corners were affected by the sharp wind that
howled abroad: which, as if expending increased fury on such
prey as it found, caught it savagely up in clouds, and, whirling
it into a thousand misty eddies, scattered it in air. Bleak,
dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and
fed to draw round the bright fire and thank God they were at
home; and for the homeless, starving wretch to lay him down and
die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare
streets, at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they
may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.

Such was the aspect of out-of-doors affairs, when Mr. Corney, the


matron of the workhouse to which our readers have been already
introduced as the birthplace of Oliver Twist, sat herself down
before a cheerful fire in her own little room, and glanced, with
no small degree of complacency, at a small round table: on which
stood a tray of corresponding size, furnished with all necessary
materials for the most grateful meal that matrons enjoy. In
fact, Mrs. Corney was about to solace herself with a cup of tea.
As she glanced from the table to the fireplace, where the
smallest of all possible kettles was singing a small song in a
small voice, her inward satisfaction evidently increased,--so
much so, indeed, that Mrs. Corney smiled.

'Well!' said the matron, leaning her elbow on the table, and


looking reflectively at the fire; 'I'm sure we have all on us a
great deal to be grateful for! A great deal, if we did but know
it. Ah!'

Mrs. Corney shook her head mournfully, as if deploring the mental


blindness of those paupers who did not know it; and thrusting a
silver spoon (private property) into the inmost recesses of a
two-ounce tin tea-caddy, proceeded to make the tea.

How slight a thing will disturb the equanimity of our frail


minds! The black teapot, being very small and easily filled, ran
over while Mrs. Corney was moralising; and the water slightly
scalded Mrs. Corney's hand.

'Drat the pot!' said the worthy matron, setting it down very


hastily on the hob; 'a little stupid thing, that only holds a
couple of cups! What use is it of, to anybody! Except,' said
Mrs. Corney, pausing, 'except to a poor desolate creature like
me. Oh dear!'

With these words, the matron dropped into her chair, and, once


more resting her elbow on the table, thought of her solitary
fate. The small teapot, and the single cup, had awakened in her
mind sad recollections of Mr. Corney (who had not been dead more
than five-and-twenty years); and she was overpowered.

'I shall never get another!' said Mrs. Corney, pettishly; 'I


shall never get another--like him.'

Whether this remark bore reference to the husband, or the teapot,


is uncertain. It might have been the latter; for Mrs. Corney
looked at it as she spoke; and took it up afterwards. She had
just tasted her first cup, when she was disturbed by a soft tap
at the room-door.

'Oh, come in with you!' said Mrs. Corney, sharply. 'Some of the


old women dying, I suppose. They always die when I'm at meals.
Don't stand there, letting the cold air in, don't. What's amiss
now, eh?'

'Nothing, ma'am, nothing,' replied a man's voice.

'Dear me!' exclaimed the matron, in a much sweeter tone, 'is that
Mr. Bumble?'

'At your service, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble, who had been stopping


outside to rub his shoes clean, and to shake the snow off his
coat; and who now made his appearance, bearing the cocked hat in
one hand and a bundle in the other. 'Shall I shut the door,
ma'am?'

The lady modestly hesitated to reply, lest there should be any


impropriety in holding an interview with Mr. Bumble, with closed
doors. Mr. Bumble taking advantage of the hesitation, and being
very cold himself, shut it without permission.

'Hard weather, Mr. Bumble,' said the matron.

'Hard, indeed, ma'am,' replied the beadle. 'Anti-porochial
weather this, ma'am. We have given away, Mrs. Corney, we have
given away a matter of twenty quartern loaves and a cheese and a
half, this very blessed afternoon; and yet them paupers are not
contented.'

'Of course not. When would they be, Mr. Bumble?' said the


matron, sipping her tea.

'When, indeed, ma'am!' rejoined Mr. Bumble. 'Why here's one man


that, in consideraton of his wife and large family, has a
quartern loaf and a good pound of cheese, full weight. Is he
grateful, ma'am? Is he grateful? Not a copper farthing's worth
of it! What does he do, ma'am, but ask for a few coals; if it's
only a pocket handkerchief full, he says! Coals! What would he
do with coals? Toast his cheese with 'em and then come back for
more. That's the way with these people, ma'am; give 'em a apron
full of coals to-day, and they'll come back for another, the day
1   ...   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   ...   34


The database is protected by copyright ©dentisty.org 2016
send message

    Main page