Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens



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part in conversations where once, she would have been the
loudest. At other times, she laughed without merriment, and was
noisy without a moment afterwards--she sat silent and dejected,
brooding with her head upon her hands, while the very effort by
which she roused herself, told, more forcibly than even these
indications, that she was ill at ease, and that her thoughts were
occupied with matters very different and distant from those in
the course of discussion by her companions.

It was Sunday night, and the bell of the nearest church struck


the hour. Sikes and the Jew were talking, but they paused to
listen. The girl looked up from the low seat on which she
crouched, and listened too. Eleven.

'An hour this side of midnight,' said Sikes, raising the blind to


look out and returning to his seat. 'Dark and heavy it is too.
A good night for business this.'

'Ah!' replied Fagin. 'What a pity, Bill, my dear, that there's


none quite ready to be done.'

'You're right for once,' replied Sikes gruffly. 'It is a pity,


for I'm in the humour too.'

Fagin sighed, and shook his head despondingly.

'We must make up for lost time when we've got things into a good
train. That's all I know,' said Sikes.

'That's the way to talk, my dear,' replied Fagin, venturing to


pat him on the shoulder. 'It does me good to hear you.'

'Does you good, does it!' cried Sikes. 'Well, so be it.'

'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Fagin, as if he were relieved by even this
concession. 'You're like yourself to-night, Bill. Quite like
yourself.'

'I don't feel like myself when you lay that withered old claw on


my shoulder, so take it away,' said Sikes, casting off the Jew's
hand.

'It make you nervous, Bill,--reminds you of being nabbed, does


it?' said Fagin, determined not to be offended.

'Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil,' returned Sikes. 'There


never was another man with such a face as yours, unless it was
your father, and I suppose HE is singeing his grizzled red beard
by this time, unless you came straight from the old 'un without
any father at all betwixt you; which I shouldn't wonder at, a
bit.'

Fagin offered no reply to this compliment: but, pulling Sikes by


the sleeve, pointed his finger towards Nancy, who had taken
advantage of the foregoing conversation to put on her bonnet, and
was now leaving the room.

'Hallo!' cried Sikes. 'Nance. Where's the gal going to at this


time of night?'

'Not far.'

'What answer's that?' retorted Sikes. 'Do you hear me?'

'I don't know where,' replied the girl.

'Then I do,' said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy than
because he had any real objection to the girl going where she
listed. 'Nowhere. Sit down.'

'I'm not well. I told you that before,' rejoined the girl. 'I


want a breath of air.'

'Put your head out of the winder,' replied Sikes.

'There's not enough there,' said the girl. 'I want it in the
street.'

'Then you won't have it,' replied Sikes. With which assurance he


rose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnet
from her head, flung it up to the top of an old press. 'There,'
said the robber. 'Now stop quietly where you are, will you?'

'It's not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,' said the girl


turning very pale. 'What do you mean, Bill? Do you know what
you're doing?'

'Know what I'm--Oh!' cried Sikes, turning to Fagin, 'she's out of


her senses, you know, or she daren't talk to me in that way.'

'You'll drive me on the something desperate,' muttered the girl


placing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down by
force some violent outbreak. 'Let me go, will you,--this
minute--this instant.'

'No!' said Sikes.

'Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It'll be better
for him. Do you hear me?' cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the
ground.

'Hear you!' repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confront


her. 'Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog
shall have such a grip on your throat as'll tear some of that
screaming voice out. Wot has come over you, you jade! Wot is
it?'

'Let me go,' said the girl with great earnestness; then sitting


herself down on the floor, before the door, she said, 'Bill, let
me go; you don't know what you are doing. You don't, indeed. For
only one hour--do--do!'

'Cut my limbs off one by one!' cried Sikes, seizing her roughly


by the arm, 'If I don't think the gal's stark raving mad. Get
up.'

'Not till you let me go--not till you let me go--Never--never!'


screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for a minute, watching his
opportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her,
struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small room
adjoining, where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting her
into a chair, held her down by force. She struggled and implored
by turns until twelve o'clock had struck, and then, wearied and
exhausted, ceased to contest the point any further. With a
caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go out
that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined
Fagin.

'Whew!' said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from his


face. 'Wot a precious strange gal that is!'

'You may say that, Bill,' replied Fagin thoughtfully. 'You may


say that.'

'Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do you


think?' asked Sikes. 'Come; you should know her better than me.
Wot does is mean?'

'Obstinacy; woman's obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.'

'Well, I suppose it is,' growled Sikes. 'I thought I had tamed
her, but she's as bad as ever.'

'Worse,' said Fagin thoughtfully. 'I never knew her like this,


for such a little cause.'

'Nor I,' said Sikes. 'I think she's got a touch of that fever in


her blood yet, and it won't come out--eh?'

'Like enough.'

'I'll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, if
she's took that way again,' said Sikes.

Fagin nodded an expressive approval of this mode of treatment.

'She was hanging about me all day, and night too, when I was
stretched on my back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as you
are, kept yourself aloof,' said Sikes. 'We was poor too, all the
time, and I think, one way or other, it's worried and fretted
her; and that being shut up here so long has made her
restless--eh?'

'That's it, my dear,' replied the Jew in a whisper. 'Hush!'

As he uttered these words, the girl herself appeared and resumed
her former seat. Her eyes were swollen and red; she rocked
herself to and fro; tossed her head; and, after a little time,
burst out laughing.

'Why, now she's on the other tack!' exclaimed Sikes, turning a


look of excessive surprise on his companion.

Fagin nodded to him to take no further notice just then; and, in


a few minutes, the girl subsided into her accustomed demeanour.
Whispering Sikes that there was no fear of her relapsing, Fagin
took up his hat and bade him good-night. He paused when he
reached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebody would
light him down the dark stairs.

'Light him down,' said Sikes, who was filling his pipe. 'It's a


pity he should break his neck himself, and disappoint the
sight-seers. Show him a light.'

Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle. When they


reached the passage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawing
close to the girl, said, in a whisper.

'What is it, Nancy, dear?'

'What do you mean?' replied the girl, in the same tone.

'The reason of all this,' replied Fagin. 'If HE'--he pointed


with his skinny fore-finger up the stairs--'is so hard with you
(he's a brute, Nance, a brute-beast), why don't you--'

'Well?' said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almost


touching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers.

'No matter just now. We'll talk of this again. You have a


friend in me, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand,
quiet and close. If you want revenge on those that treat you
like a dog--like a dog! worse than his dog, for he humours him
sometimes--come to me. I say, come to me. He is the mere hound
of a day, but you know me of old, Nance.'

'I know you well,' replied the girls, without manifesting the


least emotion. 'Good-night.'

She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, but


said good-night again, in a steady voice, and, answering his
parting look with a nod of intelligence, closed the door between
them.

Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that were


working within his brain. He had conceived the idea--not from
what had just passed though that had tended to confirm him, but
slowly and by degrees--that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker's
brutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend. Her
altered manner, her repeated absences from home alone, her
comparative indifference to the interests of the gang for which
she had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperate
impatience to leave home that night at a particular hour, all
favoured the supposition, and rendered it, to him at least,
almost matter of certainty. The object of this new liking was
not among his myrmidons. He would be a valuable acquisition with
such an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) be
secured without delay.

There was another, and a darker object, to be gained. Sikes knew


too much, and his ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less,
because the wounds were hidden. The girl must know, well, that
if she shook him off, she could never be safe from his fury, and
that it would be surely wreaked--to the maiming of limbs, or
perhaps the loss of life--on the object of her more recent fancy.

'With a little persuasion,' thought Fagin, 'what more likely than


that she would consent to poison him? Women have done such
things, and worse, to secure the same object before now. There
would be the dangerous villain: the man I hate: gone; another
secured in his place; and my influence over the girl, with a
knowledge of this crime to back it, unlimited.'

These things passed through the mind of Fagin, during the short


time he sat alone, in the housebreaker's room; and with them
uppermost in his thoughts, he had taken the opportunity
afterwards afforded him, of sounding the girl in the broken hints
he threw out at parting. There was no expression of surprise, no
assumption of an inability to understand his meaning. The girl
clearly comprehended it. Her glance at parting showed THAT.

But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life of


Sikes, and that was one of the chief ends to be attained. 'How,'
thought Fagin, as he crept homeward, 'can I increase my influence
with her? what new power can I acquire?'

Such brains are fertile in expedients. If, without extracting a


confession from herself, he laid a watch, discovered the object
of her altered regard, and threatened to reveal the whole history
to Sikes (of whom she stood in no common fear) unless she entered
into his designs, could he not secure her compliance?

'I can,' said Fagin, almost aloud. 'She durst not refuse me


then. Not for her life, not for her life! I have it all. The
means are ready, and shall be set to work. I shall have you
yet!'

He cast back a dark look, and a threatening motion of the hand,


towards the spot where he had left the bolder villian; and went
on his way: busying his bony hands in the folds of his tattered
garment, which he wrenched tightly in his grasp, as though there
were a hated enemy crushed with every motion of his fingers.

CHAPTER XLV

NOAH CLAYPOLE IS EMPLOYED BY FAGIN ON A SECRET MISSION

The old man was up, betimes, next morning, and waited impatiently


for the appearance of his new associate, who after a delay that
seemed interminable, at length presented himself, and commenced a
voracious assault on the breakfast.

'Bolter,' said Fagin, drawing up a chair and seating himself


opposite Morris Bolter.

'Well, here I am,' returned Noah. 'What's the matter? Don't yer


ask me to do anything till I have done eating. That's a great
fault in this place. Yer never get time enough over yer meals.'

'You can talk as you eat, can't you?' said Fagin, cursing his


dear young friend's greediness from the very bottom of his heart.

'Oh yes, I can talk. I get on better when I talk,' said Noah,


cutting a monstrous slice of bread. 'Where's Charlotte?'

'Out,' said Fagin. 'I sent her out this morning with the other


young woman, because I wanted us to be alone.'

'Oh!' said Noah. 'I wish yer'd ordered her to make some buttered


toast first. Well. Talk away. Yer won't interrupt me.'

There seemed, indeed, no great fear of anything interrupting him,


as he had evidently sat down with a determination to do a great
deal of business.

'You did well yesterday, my dear,' said Fagin. 'Beautiful! Six


shillings and ninepence halfpenny on the very first day! The
kinchin lay will be a fortune to you.'

'Don't you forget to add three pint-pots and a milk-can,' said


Mr. Bolter.

'No, no, my dear. The pint-pots were great strokes of genius:


but the milk-can was a perfect masterpiece.'

'Pretty well, I think, for a beginner,' remarked Mr. Bolter


complacently. 'The pots I took off airy railings, and the
milk-can was standing by itself outside a public-house. I
thought it might get rusty with the rain, or catch cold, yer
know. Eh? Ha! ha! ha!'

Fagin affected to laugh very heartily; and Mr. Bolter having had


his laugh out, took a series of large bites, which finished his
first hunk of bread and butter, and assisted himself to a second.

'I want you, Bolter,' said Fagin, leaning over the table, 'to do


a piece of work for me, my dear, that needs great care and
caution.'

'I say,' rejoined Bolter, 'don't yer go shoving me into danger,


or sending me any more o' yer police-offices. That don't suit me,
that don't; and so I tell yer.'

'That's not the smallest danger in it--not the very smallest,'


said the Jew; 'it's only to dodge a woman.'

'An old woman?' demanded Mr. Bolter.

'A young one,' replied Fagin.

'I can do that pretty well, I know,' said Bolter. 'I was a


regular cunning sneak when I was at school. What am I to dodge
her for? Not to--'

'Not to do anything, but to tell me where she goes, who she sees,


and, if possible, what she says; to remember the street, if it is
a street, or the house, if it is a house; and to bring me back
all the information you can.'

'What'll yer give me?' asked Noah, setting down his cup, and


looking his employer, eagerly, in the face.

'If you do it well, a pound, my dear. One pound,' said Fagin,


wishing to interest him in the scent as much as possible. 'And
that's what I never gave yet, for any job of work where there
wasn't valuable consideration to be gained.'

'Who is she?' inquired Noah.

'One of us.'

'Oh Lor!' cried Noah, curling up his nose. 'Yer doubtful of her,


are yer?'

'She had found out some new friends, my dear, and I must know who


they are,' replied Fagin.

'I see,' said Noah. 'Just to have the pleasure of knowing them,


if they're respectable people, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I'm your man.'

'I knew you would be,' cried Fagin, eleated by the success of his


proposal.

'Of course, of course,' replied Noah. 'Where is she? Where am I


to wait for her? Where am I to go?'

'All that, my dear, you shall hear from me. I'll point her out


at the proper time,' said Fagin. 'You keep ready, and leave the
rest to me.'

That night, and the next, and the next again, the spy sat booted


and equipped in his carter's dress: ready to turn out at a word
from Fagin. Six nights passed--six long weary nights--and on
each, Fagin came home with a disappointed face, and briefly
intimated that it was not yet time. On the seventh, he returned
earlier, and with an exultation he could not conceal. It was
Sunday.

'She goes abroad to-night,' said Fagin, 'and on the right errand,


I'm sure; for she has been alone all day, and the man she is
afraid of will not be back much before daybreak. Come with me.
Quick!'

Noah started up without saying a word; for the Jew was in a state


of such intense excitement that it infected him. They left the
house stealthily, and hurrying through a labyrinth of streets,
arrived at length before a public-house, which Noah recognised as
the same in which he had slept, on the night of his arrival in
London.

It was past eleven o'clock, and the door was closed. It opened


softly on its hinges as Fagin gave a low whistle. They entered,
without noise; and the door was closed behind them.

Scarcely venturing to whisper, but substituting dumb show for


words, Fagin, and the young Jew who had admitted them, pointed
out the pane of glass to Noah, and signed to him to climb up and
observe the person in the adjoining room.

'Is that the woman?' he asked, scarcely above his breath.

Fagin nodded yes.

'I can't see her face well,' whispered Noah. 'She is looking


down, and the candle is behind her.

'Stay there,' whispered Fagin. He signed to Barney, who


withdrew. In an instant, the lad entered the room adjoining,
and, under pretence of snuffing the candle, moved it in the
required position, and, speaking to the girl, caused her to raise
her face.

'I see her now,' cried the spy.

'Plainly?'

'I should know her among a thousand.'

He hastily descended, as the room-door opened, and the girl came
out. Fagin drew him behind a small partition which was curtained
off, and they held their breaths as she passed within a few feet
of their place of concealment, and emerged by the door at which
they had entered.

'Hist!' cried the lad who held the door. 'Dow.'

Noah exchanged a look with Fagin, and darted out.

'To the left,' whispered the lad; 'take the left had, and keep od


the other side.'

He did so; and, by the light of the lamps, saw the girl's


retreating figure, already at some distance before him. He
advanced as near as he considered prudent, and kept on the
opposite side of the street, the better to observe her motions.
She looked nervously round, twice or thrice, and once stopped to
let two men who were following close behind her, pass on. She
seemed to gather courage as she advanced, and to walk with a
steadier and firmer step. The spy preserved the same relative
distance between them, and followed: with his eye upon her.

CHAPTER XLVI

THE APPOINTMENT KEPT

The church clocks chimed three quarters past eleven, as two


figures emerged on London Bridge. One, which advanced with a
swift and rapid step, was that of a woman who looked eagerly
about her as though in quest of some expected object; the other
figure was that of a man, who slunk along in the deepest shadow
he could find, and, at some distance, accommodated his pace to
hers: stopping when she stopped: and as she moved again,
creeping stealthily on: but never allowing himself, in the
ardour of his pursuit, to gain upon her footsteps. Thus, they
crossed the bridge, from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, when
the woman, apparently disappointed in her anxious scrutiny of the
foot-passengers, turned back. The movement was sudden; but he
who watched her, was not thrown off his guard by it; for,
shrinking into one of the recesses which surmount the piers of
the bridge, and leaning over the parapet the better to conceal
his figure, he suffered her to pass on the opposite pavement.
When she was about the same distance in advance as she had been
before, he slipped quietly down, and followed her again. At
nearly the centre of the bridge, she stopped. The man stopped
too.

It was a very dark night. The day had been unfavourable, and at


that hour and place there were few people stirring. Such as there
were, hurried quickly past: very possibly without seeing, but
certainly without noticing, either the woman, or the man who kept
her in view. Their appearance was not calculated to attract the
importunate regards of such of London's destitute population, as
chanced to take their way over the bridge that night in search of
some cold arch or doorless hovel wherein to lay their heads; they
stood there in silence: neither speaking nor spoken to, by any
one who passed.

A mist hung over the river, deepening the red glare of the fires


that burnt upon the small craft moored off the different wharfs,
and rendering darker and more indistinct the murky buildings on
the banks. The old smoke-stained storehouses on either side,
rose heavy and dull from the dense mass of roofs and gables, and
frowned sternly upon water too black to reflect even their
lumbering shapes. The tower of old Saint Saviour's Church, and
the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the
ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom; but the forest of
shipping below bridge, and the thickly scattered spires of
churches above, were nearly all hidden from sight.

The girl had taken a few restless turns to and fro--closely


watched meanwhile by her hidden observer--when the heavy bell of
St. Paul's tolled for the death of another day. Midnight had
come upon the crowded city. The palace, the night-cellar, the
jail, the madhouse: the chambers of birth and death, of health
and sickness, the rigid face of the corpse and the calm sleep of
the child: midnight was upon them all.

The hour had not struck two minutes, when a young lady,


accompanied by a grey-haired gentleman, alighted from a
hackney-carriage within a short distance of the bridge, and,
having dismissed the vehicle, walked straight towards it. They
had scarcely set foot upon its pavement, when the girl started,
and immediately made towards them.

They walked onward, looking about them with the air of persons


who entertained some very slight expectation which had little
chance of being realised, when they were suddenly joined by this
new associate. They halted with an exclamation of surprise, but
suppressed it immediately; for a man in the garments of a
countryman came close up--brushed against them, indeed--at that
precise moment.

'Not here,' said Nancy hurriedly, 'I am afraid to speak to you


here. Come away--out of the public road--down the steps yonder!'

As she uttered these words, and indicated, with her hand, the


direction in which she wished them to proceed, the countryman
looked round, and roughly asking what they took up the whole
pavement for, passed on.

The steps to which the girl had pointed, were those which, on the

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