Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens



Download 1.32 Mb.
Page16/34
Date conversion15.05.2018
Size1.32 Mb.
1   ...   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   ...   34

any deep play here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunning
as you are.'

She was in her room, the woman said. Fagin crept softly


upstairs, and entered it without any previous ceremony. The girl
was alone; lying with her head upon the table, and her hair
straggling over it.

'She has been drinking,' thought the Jew, cooly, 'or perhaps she


is only miserable.'

The old man turned to close the door, as he made this reflection;


the noise thus occasioned, roused the girl. She eyed his crafty
face narrowly, as she inquired to his recital of Toby Crackit's
story. When it was concluded, she sank into her former attitude,
but spoke not a word. She pushed the candle impatiently away;
and once or twice as she feverishly changed her position,
shuffled her feet upon the ground; but this was all.

During the silence, the Jew looked restlessly about the room, as


if to assure himself that there were no appearances of Sikes
having covertly returned. Apparently satisfied with his
inspection, he coughed twice or thrice, and made as many efforts
to open a conversation; but the girl heeded him no more than if
he had been made of stone. At length he made another attempt;
and rubbing his hands together, said, in his most concilitory
tone,

'And where should you think Bill was now, my dear?'

The girl moaned out some half intelligible reply, that she could
not tell; and seemed, from the smothered noise that escaped her,
to be crying.

'And the boy, too,' said the Jew, straining his eyes to catch a


glimpse of her face. 'Poor leetle child! Left in a ditch,
Nance; only think!'

'The child,' said the girl, suddenly looking up, 'is better where


he is, than among us; and if no harm comes to Bill from it, I
hope he lies dead in the ditch and that his young bones may rot
there.'

'What!' cried the Jew, in amazement.

'Ay, I do,' returned the girl, meeting his gaze. 'I shall be
glad to have him away from my eyes, and to know that the worst is
over. I can't bear to have him about me. The sight of him turns
me against myself, and all of you.'

'Pooh!' said the Jew, scornfully. 'You're drunk.'

'Am I?' cried the girl bitterly. 'It's no fault of yours, if I
am not! You'd never have me anything else, if you had your will,
except now;--the humour doesn't suit you, doesn't it?'

'No!' rejoined the Jew, furiously. 'It does not.'

'Change it, then!' responded the girl, with a laugh.

'Change it!' exclaimed the Jew, exasperated beyond all bounds by


his companion's unexpected obstinacy, and the vexation of the
night, 'I WILL change it! Listen to me, you drab. Listen to me,
who with six words, can strangle Sikes as surely as if I had his
bull's throat between my fingers now. If he comes back, and
leaves the boy behind him; if he gets off free, and dead or
alive, fails to restore him to me; murder him yourself if you
would have him escape Jack Ketch. And do it the moment he sets
foot in this room, or mind me, it will be too late!'

'What is all this?' cried the girl involuntarily.

'What is it?' pursued Fagin, mad with rage. 'When the boy's
worth hundreds of pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw me
in the way of getting safely, through the whims of a drunken gang
that I could whistle away the lives of! And me bound, too, to a
born devil that only wants the will, and has the power to, to--'

Panting for breath, the old man stammered for a word; and in that


instant checked the torrent of his wrath, and changed his whole
demeanour. A moment before, his clenched hands had grasped the
air; his eyes had dilated; and his face grown livid with passion;
but now, he shrunk into a chair, and, cowering together, trembled
with the apprehension of having himself disclosed some hidden
villainy. After a short silence, he ventured to look round at
his companion. He appeared somewhat reassured, on beholding her
in the same listless attitude from which he had first roused her.

'Nancy, dear!' croaked the Jew, in his usual voice. 'Did you


mind me, dear?'

'Don't worry me now, Fagin!' replied the girl, raising her head


languidly. 'If Bill has not done it this time, he will another.
He has done many a good job for you, and will do many more when
he can; and when he can't he won't; so no more about that.'

'Regarding this boy, my dear?' said the Jew, rubbing the palms of


his hands nervously together.

'The boy must take his chance with the rest,' interrupted Nancy,


hastily; 'and I say again, I hope he is dead, and out of harm's
way, and out of yours,--that is, if Bill comes to no harm. And
if Toby got clear off, Bill's pretty sure to be safe; for Bill's
worth two of Toby any time.'

'And about what I was saying, my dear?' observed the Jew, keeping


his glistening eye steadily upon her.

'Your must say it all over again, if it's anything you want me to


do,' rejoined Nancy; 'and if it is, you had better wait till
to-morrow. You put me up for a minute; but now I'm stupid
again.'

Fagin put several other questions: all with the same drift of


ascertaining whether the girl had profited by his unguarded
hints; but, she answered them so readily, and was withal so
utterly unmoved by his searching looks, that his original
impression of her being more than a trifle in liquor, was
confirmed. Nancy, indeed, was not exempt from a failing which
was very common among the Jew's female pupils; and in which, in
their tenderer years, they were rather encouraged than checked.
Her disordered appearance, and a wholesale perfume of Geneva
which pervaded the apartment, afforded stong confirmatory
evidence of the justice of the Jew's supposition; and when, after
indulging in the temporary display of violence above described,
she subsided, first into dullness, and afterwards into a compound
of feelings: under the influence of which she shed tears one
minute, and in the next gave utterance to various exclamations of
'Never say die!' and divers calculations as to what might be the
amount of the odds so long as a lady or gentleman was happy, Mr.
Fagin, who had had considerable experience of such matters in his
time, saw, with great satisfaction, that she was very far gone
indeed.

Having eased his mind by this discovery; and having accomplished


his twofold object of imparting to the girl what he had, that
night, heard, and of ascertaining, with his own eyes, that Sikes
had not returned, Mr. Fagin again turned his face homeward:
leaving his young friend asleep, with her head upon the table.

It was within an hour of midnight. The weather being dark, and


piercing cold, he had no great temptation to loiter. The sharp
wind that scoured the streets, seemed to have cleared them of
passengers, as of dust and mud, for few people were abroad, and
they were to all appearance hastening fast home. It blew from the
right quarter for the Jew, however, and straight before it he
went: trembling, and shivering, as every fresh gust drove him
rudely on his way.

He had reached the corner of his own street, and was already


fumbling in his pocket for the door-key, when a dark figure
emerged from a projecting entrance which lay in deep shadow, and,
crossing the road, glided up to him unperceived.

'Fagin!' whispered a voice close to his ear.

'Ah!' said the Jew, turning quickly round, 'is that--'

'Yes!' interrupted the stranger. 'I have been lingering here


these two hours. Where the devil have you been?'

'On your business, my dear,' replied the Jew, glancing uneasily


at his companion, and slackening his pace as he spoke. 'On your
business all night.'

'Oh, of course!' said the stranger, with a sneer. 'Well; and


what's come of it?'

'Nothing good,' said the Jew.

'Nothing bad, I hope?' said the stranger, stopping short, and
turning a startled look on his companion.

The Jew shook his head, and was about to reply, when the


stranger, interrupting him, motioned to the house, before which
they had by this time arrived: remarking, that he had better say
what he had got to say, under cover: for his blood was chilled
with standing about so long, and the wind blew through him.

Fagin looked as if he could have willingly excused himself from


taking home a visitor at that unseasonable hour; and, indeed,
muttered something about having no fire; but his companion
repeating his request in a peremptory manner, he unlocked the
door, and requested him to close it softly, while he got a light.

'It's as dark as the grave,' said the man, groping forward a few


steps. 'Make haste!'

'Shut the door,' whispered Fagin from the end of the passage. As


he spoke, it closed with a loud noise.

'That wasn't my doing,' said the other man, feeling his way. 'The


wind blew it to, or it shut of its own accord: one or the other.
Look sharp with the light, or I shall knock my brains out against
something in this confounded hole.'

Fagin stealthily descended the kitchen stairs. After a short


absence, he returned with a lighted candle, and the intelligence
that Toby Crackit was asleep in the back room below, and that the
boys were in the front one. Beckoning the man to follow him, he
led the way upstairs.

'We can say the few words we've got to say in here, my dear,'


said the Jew, throwing open a door on the first floor; 'and as
there are holes in the shutters, and we never show lights to our
neighbours, we'll set the candle on the stairs. There!'

With those words, the Jew, stooping down, placed the candle on an


upper flight of stairs, exactly opposite to the room door. This
done, he led the way into the apartment; which was destitute of
all movables save a broken arm-chair, and an old couch or sofa
without covering, which stood behind the door. Upon this piece
of furniture, the stranger sat himself with the air of a weary
man; and the Jew, drawing up the arm-chair opposite, they sat
face to face. It was not quite dark; the door was partially
open; and the candle outside, threw a feeble reflection on the
opposite wall.

They conversed for some time in whispers. Though nothing of the


conversation was distinguishable beyond a few disjointed words
here and there, a listener might easily have perceived that Fagin
appeared to be defending himself against some remarks of the
stranger; and that the latter was in a state of considerable
irritation. They might have been talking, thus, for a quarter of
an hour or more, when Monks--by which name the Jew had designated
the strange man several times in the course of their
colloquy--said, raising his voice a little,

'I tell you again, it was badly planned. Why not have kept him


here among the rest, and made a sneaking, snivelling pickpocket
of him at once?'

'Only hear him!' exclaimed the Jew, shrugging his shoulders.

'Why, do you mean to say you couldn't have done it, if you had
chosen?' demanded Monks, sternly. 'Haven't you done it, with
other boys, scores of times? If you had had patience for a
twelvemonth, at most, couldn't you have got him convicted, and
sent safely out of the kingdom; perhaps for life?'

'Whose turn would that have served, my dear?' inquired the Jew


humbly.

'Mine,' replied Monks.

'But not mine,' said the Jew, submissively. 'He might have
become of use to me. When there are two parties to a bargain, it
is only reasonable that the interests of both should be
consulted; is it, my good friend?'

'What then?' demanded Monks.

'I saw it was not easy to train him to the business,' replied the
Jew; 'he was not like other boys in the same circumstances.'

'Curse him, no!' muttered the man, 'or he would have been a


thief, long ago.'

'I had no hold upon him to make him worse,' pursued the Jew,


anxiously watching the countenance of his companion. 'His hand
was not in. I had nothing to frighten him with; which we always
must have in the beginning, or we labour in vain. What could I
do? Send him out with the Dodger and Charley? We had enough of
that, at first, my dear; I trembled for us all.'

'THAT was not my doing,' observed Monks.

'No, no, my dear!' renewed the Jew. 'And I don't quarrel with it
now; because, if it had never happened, you might never have
clapped eyes on the boy to notice him, and so led to the
discovery that it was him you were looking for. Well! I got him
back for you by means of the girl; and then SHE begins to favour
him.'

'Throttle the girl!' said Monks, impatiently.

'Why, we can't afford to do that just now, my dear,' replied the
Jew, smiling; 'and, besides, that sort of thing is not in our
way; or, one of these days, I might be glad to have it done. I
know what these girls are, Monks, well. As soon as the boy
begins to harden, she'll care no more for him, than for a block
of wood. You want him made a thief. If he is alive, I can make
him one from this time; and, if--if--' said the Jew, drawing
nearer to the other,--'it's not likely, mind,--but if the worst
comes to the worst, and he is dead--'

'It's no fault of mine if he is!' interposed the other man, with


a look of terror, and clasping the Jew's arm with trembling
hands. 'Mind that. Fagin! I had no hand in it. Anything but
his death, I told you from the first. I won't shed blood; it's
always found out, and haunts a man besides. If they shot him
dead, I was not the cause; do you hear me? Fire this infernal
den! What's that?'

'What!' cried the Jew, grasping the coward round the body, with


both arms, as he sprung to his feet. 'Where?'

'Yonder! replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall. 'The


shadow! I saw the shadow of a woman, in a cloak and bonnet, pass
along the wainscot like a breath!'

The Jew released his hold, and they rushed tumultuously from the


room. The candle, wasted by the draught, was standing where it
had been placed. It showed them only the empty staircase, and
their own white faces. They listened intently: a profound
silence reigned throughout the house.

'It's your fancy,' said the Jew, taking up the light and turning


to his companion.

'I'll swear I saw it!' replied Monks, trembling. 'It was bending


forward when I saw it first; and when I spoke, it darted away.'

The Jew glanced contemptuously at the pale face of his associate,


and, telling him he could follow, if he pleased, ascended the
stairs. They looked into all the rooms; they were cold, bare,
and empty. They descended into the passage, and thence into the
cellars below. The green damp hung upon the low walls; the
tracks of the snail and slug glistened in the light of the
candle; but all was still as death.

'What do you think now?' said the Jew, when they had regained the


passage. 'Besides ourselves, there's not a creature in the house
except Toby and the boys; and they're safe enough. See here!'

As a proof of the fact, the Jew drew forth two keys from his


pocket; and explained, that when he first went downstairs, he had
locked them in, to prevent any intrusion on the conference.

This accumulated testimony effectually staggered Mr. Monks. His


protestations had gradually become less and less vehement as they
proceeded in their search without making any discovery; and, now,
he gave vent to several very grim laughs, and confessed it could
only have been his excited imagination. He declined any renewal
of the conversation, however, for that night: suddenly
remembering that it was past one o'clock. And so the amiable
couple parted.

CHAPTER XXVII

ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER CHAPTER; WHICH DESERTED A
LADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY

As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep so


mighty a personage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the
fire, and the skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms,
until such time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve him; and
as it would still less become his station, or his gallentry to
involve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looked
with an eye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had
whispered sweet words, which, coming from such a quarter, might
well thrill the bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever degree; the
historian whose pen traces these words--trusting that he knows
his place, and that he entertains a becoming reverence for those
upon earth to whom high and important authority is
delegated--hastens to pay them that respect which their position
demands, and to treat them with all that duteous ceremony which
their exalted rank, and (by consequence) great virtues,
imperatively claim at his hands. Towards this end, indeed, he
had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation touching
the divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the position,
that a beadle can do no wrong: which could not fail to have been
both pleasurable and profitable to the right-minded reader but
which he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and space,
to postpone to some more convenient and fitting opportunity; on
the arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that a beadle
properly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle,
attached to a parochail workhouse, and attending in his official
capacity the parochial church: is, in right and virtue of his
office, possessed of all the excellences and best qualities of
humanity; and that to none of those excellences, can mere
companies' beadles, or court-of-law beadles, or even
chapel-of-ease beadles (save the last, and they in a very lowly
and inferior degree), lay the remotest sustainable claim.

Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed the


sugar-tongs, made a closer inspection of the milk-pot, and
ascertained to a nicety the exact condition of the furniture,
down to the very horse-hair seats of the chairs; and had repeated
each process full half a dozen times; before he began to think
that it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begets
thinking; as there were no sounds of Mrs. Corney's approach, it
occured to Mr. Bumble that it would be an innocent and virtuous
way of spending the time, if he were further to allay his
curiousity by a cursory glance at the interior of Mrs. Corney's
chest of drawers.

Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody was


approaching the chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom,
proceeded to make himself acquainted with the contents of the
three long drawers: which, being filled with various garments of
good fashion and texture, carefully preserved between two layers
of old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yield
him exceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at the
right-hand corner drawer (in which was the key), and beholding
therein a small padlocked box, which, being shaken, gave forth a
pleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin, Mr. Bumble returned
with a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his old
attitude, said, with a grave and determined air, 'I'll do it!'
He followed up this remarkable declaration, by shaking his head
in a waggish manner for ten minutes, as though he were
remonstrating with himself for being such a pleasant dog; and
then, he took a view of his legs in profile, with much seeming
pleasure and interest.

He was still placidly engaged in this latter survey, when Mrs.


Corney, hurrying into the room, threw herself, in a breathless
state, on a chair by the fireside, and covering her eyes with one
hand, placed the other over her heart, and gasped for breath.

'Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble, stooping over the matron, 'what


is this, ma'am? Has anything happened, ma'am? Pray answer me:
I'm on--on--' Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, could not immediately
think of the word 'tenterhooks,' so he said 'broken bottles.'

'Oh, Mr. Bumble!' cried the lady, 'I have been so dreadfully put


out!'

'Put out, ma'am!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble; 'who has dared to--? I


know!' said Mr. Bumble, checking himself, with native majesty,
'this is them wicious paupers!'

'It's dreadful to think of!' said the lady, shuddering.

'Then DON'T think of it, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble.

'I can't help it,' whimpered the lady.

'Then take something, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble soothingly. 'A
little of the wine?'

'Not for the world!' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I couldn't,--oh! The


top shelf in the right-hand corner--oh!' Uttering these words,
the good lady pointed, distractedly, to the cupboard, and
underwent a convulsion from internal spasms. Mr. Bumble rushed
to the closet; and, snatching a pint green-glass bottle from the
shelf thus incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with its
contents, and held it to the lady's lips.

'I'm better now,' said Mrs. Corney, falling back, after drinking


half of it.

Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously to the ceiling in


thankfulness; and, bringing them down again to the brim of the
cup, lifted it to his nose.

'Peppermint,' exclaimed Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smiling


gently on the beadle as she spoke. 'Try it! There's a little--a
little something else in it.'

Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with a doubtful look; smacked his


lips; took another taste; and put the cup down empty.

'It's very comforting,' said Mrs. Corney.

'Very much so indeed, ma'am,' said the beadle. As he spoke, he
drew a chair beside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had
happened to distress her.

'Nothing,' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I am a foolish, excitable, weak


creetur.'

'Not weak, ma'am,' retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair a


little closer. 'Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?'

'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mrs. Corney, laying down a


general principle.

'So we are,' said the beadle.

Nothing was said on either side, for a minute or two afterwards.
By the expiration of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the
position by removing his left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney's
chair, where it had previously rested, to Mrs. Corney's
aprong-string, round which is gradually became entwined.

'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Corney sighed.

'Don't sigh, Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble.

'I can't help it,' said Mrs. Corney. And she sighed again.

'This is a very comfortable room, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble looking


round. 'Another room, and this, ma'am, would be a complete
thing.'

'It would be too much for one,' murmured the lady.

'But not for two, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble, in soft accents.
'Eh, Mrs. Corney?'

Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when the beadle said this; the


beadle drooped his, to get a view of Mrs. Corney's face. Mrs.
1   ...   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   ...   34


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

    Main page