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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Part 5 out of 10

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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 consideration 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
after to-morrow, as brazen as alabaster.'

The matron expressed her entire concurrence in this intelligible
simile; and the beadle went on.

'I never,' said Mr. Bumble, 'see anything like the pitch it's got
to. The day afore yesterday, a man--you have been a married
woman, ma'am, and I may mention it to you--a man, with hardly a
rag upon his back (here Mrs. Corney looked at the floor), goes to
our overseer's door when he has got company coming to dinner; and
says, he must be relieved, Mrs. Corney. As he wouldn't go away,
and shocked the company very much, our overseer sent him out a
pound of potatoes and half a pint of oatmeal. "My heart!" says
the ungrateful villain, "what's the use of _this_ to me? You might
as well give me a pair of iron spectacles!" "Very good," says
our overseer, taking 'em away again, "you won't get anything else
here." "Then I'll die in the streets!" says the vagrant. "Oh
no, you won't," says our overseer.'

'Ha! ha! That was very good! So like Mr. Grannett, wasn't it?'
interposed the matron. 'Well, Mr. Bumble?'

'Well, ma'am,' rejoined the beadle, 'he went away; and he _did_ die
in the streets. There's a obstinate pauper for you!'

'It beats anything I could have believed,' observed the matron
emphatically. 'But don't you think out-of-door relief a very bad
thing, any way, Mr. Bumble? You're a gentleman of experience,
and ought to know. Come.'

'Mrs. Corney,' said the beadle, smiling as men smile who are
conscious of superior information, 'out-of-door relief, properly
managed: properly managed, ma'am: is the porochial safeguard. The
great principle of out-of-door relief is, to give the paupers
exactly what they don't want; and then they get tired of coming.'

'Dear me!' exclaimed Mrs. Corney. 'Well, that is a good one,
too!'

'Yes. Betwixt you and me, ma'am,' returned Mr. Bumble, 'that's
the great principle; and that's the reason why, if you look at
any cases that get into them owdacious newspapers, you'll always
observe that sick families have been relieved with slices of
cheese. That's the rule now, Mrs. Corney, all over the country.
But, however,' said the beadle, stopping to unpack his bundle,
'these are official secrets, ma'am; not to be spoken of; except,
as I may say, among the porochial officers, such as ourselves.
This is the port wine, ma'am, that the board ordered for the
infirmary; real, fresh, genuine port wine; only out of the cask
this forenoon; clear as a bell, and no sediment!'

Having held the first bottle up to the light, and shaken it well
to test its excellence, Mr. Bumble placed them both on top of a
chest of drawers; folded the handkerchief in which they had been
wrapped; put it carefully in his pocket; and took up his hat, as
if to go.

'You'll have a very cold walk, Mr. Bumble,' said the matron.

'It blows, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble, turning up his
coat-collar, 'enough to cut one's ears off.'

The matron looked, from the little kettle, to the beadle, who was
moving towards the door; and as the beadle coughed, preparatory
to bidding her good-night, bashfully inquired whether--whether he
wouldn't take a cup of tea?

Mr. Bumble instantaneously turned back his collar again; laid his
hat and stick upon a chair; and drew another chair up to the
table. As he slowly seated himself, he looked at the lady. She
fixed her eyes upon the little teapot. Mr. Bumble coughed again,
and slightly smiled.

Mrs. Corney rose to get another cup and saucer from the closet.
As she sat down, her eyes once again encountered those of the
gallant beadle; she coloured, and applied herself to the task of
making his tea. Again Mr. Bumble coughed--louder this time than
he had coughed yet.

'Sweet? Mr. Bumble?' inquired the matron, taking up the
sugar-basin.

'Very sweet, indeed, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble. He fixed his
eyes on Mrs. Corney as he said this; and if ever a beadle looked
tender, Mr. Bumble was that beadle at that moment.

The tea was made, and handed in silence. Mr. Bumble, having
spread a handkerchief over his knees to prevent the crumbs from
sullying the splendour of his shorts, began to eat and drink;
varying these amusements, occasionally, by fetching a deep sigh;
which, however, had no injurious effect upon his appetite, but,
on the contrary, rather seemed to facilitate his operations in
the tea and toast department.

'You have a cat, ma'am, I see,' said Mr. Bumble, glancing at one
who, in the centre of her family, was basking before the fire;
'and kittens too, I declare!'

'I am so fond of them, Mr. Bumble, you can't think,' replied the
matron. 'They're _so_ happy, _so_ frolicsome, and _so_ cheerful, that
they are quite companions for me.'

'Very nice animals, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble, approvingly; 'so
very domestic.'

'Oh, yes!' rejoined the matron with enthusiasm; 'so fond of their
home too, that it's quite a pleasure, I'm sure.'

'Mrs. Corney, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble, slowly, and marking the
time with his teaspoon, 'I mean to say this, ma'am; that any cat,
or kitten, that could live with you, ma'am, and _not_ be fond of
its home, must be a ass, ma'am.'

'Oh, Mr. Bumble!' remonstrated Mrs. Corney.

'It's of no use disguising facts, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble, slowly
flourishing the teaspoon with a kind of amorous dignity which
made him doubly impressive; 'I would drown it myself, with
pleasure.'

'Then you're a cruel man,' said the matron vivaciously, as she
held out her hand for the beadle's cup; 'and a very hard-hearted
man besides.'

'Hard-hearted, ma'am?' said Mr. Bumble. 'Hard?' Mr. Bumble
resigned his cup without another word; squeezed Mrs. Corney's
little finger as she took it; and inflicting two open-handed
slaps upon his laced waistcoat, gave a mighty sigh, and hitched
his chair a very little morsel farther from the fire.

It was a round table; and as Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble had been
sitting opposite each other, with no great space between them,
and fronting the fire, it will be seen that Mr. Bumble, in
receding from the fire, and still keeping at the table, increased
the distance between himself and Mrs. Corney; which proceeding,
some prudent readers will doubtless be disposed to admire, and to
consider an act of great heroism on Mr. Bumble's part: he being
in some sort tempted by time, place, and opportunity, to give
utterance to certain soft nothings, which however well they may
become the lips of the light and thoughtless, do seem
immeasurably beneath the dignity of judges of the land, members
of parliament, ministers of state, lord mayors, and other great
public functionaries, but more particularly beneath the
stateliness and gravity of a beadle: who (as is well known)
should be the sternest and most inflexible among them all.

Whatever were Mr. Bumble's intentions, however (and no doubt they
were of the best): it unfortunately happened, as has been twice
before remarked, that the table was a round one; consequently Mr.
Bumble, moving his chair by little and little, soon began to
diminish the distance between himself and the matron; and,
continuing to travel round the outer edge of the circle, brought
his chair, in time, close to that in which the matron was seated.

Indeed, the two chairs touched; and when they did so, Mr. Bumble
stopped.

Now, if the matron had moved her chair to the right, she would
have been scorched by the fire; and if to the left, she must have
fallen into Mr. Bumble's arms; so (being a discreet matron, and
no doubt foreseeing these consequences at a glance) she remained
where she was, and handed Mr. Bumble another cup of tea.

'Hard-hearted, Mrs. Corney?' said Mr. Bumble, stirring his tea,
and looking up into the matron's face; 'are _you_ hard-hearted,
Mrs. Corney?'

'Dear me!' exclaimed the matron, 'what a very curious question
from a single man. What can you want to know for, Mr. Bumble?'

The beadle drank his tea to the last drop; finished a piece of
toast; whisked the crumbs off his knees; wiped his lips; and
deliberately kissed the matron.

'Mr. Bumble!' cried that discreet lady in a whisper; for the
fright was so great, that she had quite lost her voice, 'Mr.
Bumble, I shall scream!' Mr. Bumble made no reply; but in a slow
and dignified manner, put his arm round the matron's waist.

As the lady had stated her intention of screaming, of course she
would have screamed at this additional boldness, but that the
exertion was rendered unnecessary by a hasty knocking at the
door: which was no sooner heard, than Mr. Bumble darted, with
much agility, to the wine bottles, and began dusting them with
great violence: while the matron sharply demanded who was there.

It is worthy of remark, as a curious physical instance of the
efficacy of a sudden surprise in counteracting the effects of
extreme fear, that her voice had quite recovered all its official
asperity.

'If you please, mistress,' said a withered old female pauper,
hideously ugly: putting her head in at the door, 'Old Sally is
a-going fast.'

'Well, what's that to me?' angrily demanded the matron. 'I can't
keep her alive, can I?'

'No, no, mistress,' replied the old woman, 'nobody can; she's far
beyond the reach of help. I've seen a many people die; little
babes and great strong men; and I know when death's a-coming,
well enough. But she's troubled in her mind: and when the fits
are not on her,--and that's not often, for she is dying very
hard,--she says she has got something to tell, which you must
hear. She'll never die quiet till you come, mistress.'

At this intelligence, the worthy Mrs. Corney muttered a variety
of invectives against old women who couldn't even die without
purposely annoying their betters; and, muffling herself in a
thick shawl which she hastily caught up, briefly requested Mr.
Bumble to stay till she came back, lest anything particular
should occur. Bidding the messenger walk fast, and not be all
night hobbling up the stairs, she followed her from the room with
a very ill grace, scolding all the way.

Mr. Bumble's conduct on being left to himself, was rather
inexplicable. He opened the closet, counted the teaspoons,
weighed the sugar-tongs, closely inspected a silver milk-pot to
ascertain that it was of the genuine metal, and, having satisfied
his curiosity on these points, put on his cocked hat corner-wise,
and danced with much gravity four distinct times round the table.

Having gone through this very extraordinary performance, he took
off the cocked hat again, and, spreading himself before the fire
with his back towards it, seemed to be mentally engaged in taking
an exact inventory of the furniture.

CHAPTER XXIV

TREATS ON A VERY POOR SUBJECT. BUT IS A SHORT ONE, AND MAY BE
FOUND OF IMPORTANCE IN THIS HISTORY

It was no unfit messenger of death, who had disturbed the quiet
of the matron's room. Her body was bent by age; her limbs
trembled with palsy; her face, distorted into a mumbling leer,
resembled more the grotesque shaping of some wild pencil, than
the work of Nature's hand.

Alas! How few of Nature's faces are left alone to gladden us
with their beauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings, of
the world, change them as they change hearts; and it is only when
those passions sleep, and have lost their hold for ever, that the
troubled clouds pass off, and leave Heaven's surface clear. It
is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that
fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten
expression of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of
early life; so calm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those
who knew them in their happy childhood, kneel by the coffin's
side in awe, and see the Angel even upon earth.

The old crone tottered along the passages, and up the stairs,
muttering some indistinct answers to the chidings of her
companion; being at length compelled to pause for breath, she
gave the light into her hand, and remained behind to follow as
she might: while the more nimble superior made her way to the
room where the sick woman lay.

It was a bare garret-room, with a dim light burning at the
farther end. There was another old woman watching by the bed;
the parish apothecary's apprentice was standing by the fire,
making a toothpick out of a quill.

'Cold night, Mrs. Corney,' said this young gentleman, as the
matron entered.

'Very cold, indeed, sir,' replied the mistress, in her most civil
tones, and dropping a curtsey as she spoke.

'You should get better coals out of your contractors,' said the
apothecary's deputy, breaking a lump on the top of the fire with
the rusty poker; 'these are not at all the sort of thing for a
cold night.'

'They're the board's choosing, sir,' returned the matron. 'The
least they could do, would be to keep us pretty warm: for our
places are hard enough.'

The conversation was here interrupted by a moan from the sick
woman.

'Oh!' said the young mag, turning his face towards the bed, as if
he had previously quite forgotten the patient, 'it's all U.P.
there, Mrs. Corney.'

'It is, is it, sir?' asked the matron.

'If she lasts a couple of hours, I shall be surprised,' said the
apothecary's apprentice, intent upon the toothpick's point.
'It's a break-up of the system altogether. Is she dozing, old
lady?'

The attendant stooped over the bed, to ascertain; and nodded in
the affirmative.

'Then perhaps she'll go off in that way, if you don't make a
row,' said the young man. 'Put the light on the floor. She
won't see it there.'

The attendant did as she was told: shaking her head meanwhile,
to intimate that the woman would not die so easily; having done
so, she resumed her seat by the side of the other nurse, who had
by this time returned. The mistress, with an expression of
impatience, wrapped herself in her shawl, and sat at the foot of
the bed.

The apothecary's apprentice, having completed the manufacture of
the toothpick, planted himself in front of the fire and made good
use of it for ten minutes or so: when apparently growing rather
dull, he wished Mrs. Corney joy of her job, and took himself off
on tiptoe.

When they had sat in silence for some time, the two old women
rose from the bed, and crouching over the fire, held out their
withered hands to catch the heat. The flame threw a ghastly
light on their shrivelled faces, and made their ugliness appear
terrible, as, in this position, they began to converse in a low
voice.

'Did she say any more, Anny dear, while I was gone?' inquired the
messenger.

'Not a word,' replied the other. 'She plucked and tore at her
arms for a little time; but I held her hands, and she soon
dropped off. She hasn't much strength in her, so I easily kept
her quiet. I ain't so weak for an old woman, although I am on
parish allowance; no, no!'

'Did she drink the hot wine the doctor said she was to have?'
demanded the first.

'I tried to get it down,' rejoined the other. 'But her teeth
were tight set, and she clenched the mug so hard that it was as
much as I could do to get it back again. So I drank it; and it
did me good!'

Looking cautiously round, to ascertain that they were not
overheard, the two hags cowered nearer to the fire, and chuckled
heartily.

'I mind the time,' said the first speaker, 'when she would have
done the same, and made rare fun of it afterwards.'

'Ay, that she would,' rejoined the other; 'she had a merry heart.
'A many, many, beautiful corpses she laid out, as nice and neat as
waxwork. My old eyes have seen them--ay, and those old hands
touched them too; for I have helped her, scores of times.'

Stretching forth her trembling fingers as she spoke, the old
creature shook them exultingly before her face, and fumbling in
her pocket, brought out an old time-discoloured tin snuff-box,
from which she shook a few grains into the outstretched palm of
her companion, and a few more into her own. While they were thus
employed, the matron, who had been impatiently watching until the
dying woman should awaken from her stupor, joined them by the
fire, and sharply asked how long she was to wait?

'Not long, mistress,' replied the second woman, looking up into
her face. 'We have none of us long to wait for Death. Patience,
patience! He'll be here soon enough for us all.'

'Hold your tongue, you doting idiot!' said the matron sternly.
'You, Martha, tell me; has she been in this way before?'

'Often,' answered the first woman.

'But will never be again,' added the second one; 'that is, she'll
never wake again but once--and mind, mistress, that won't be for
long!'

'Long or short,' said the matron, snappishly, 'she won't find me
here when she does wake; take care, both of you, how you worry me
again for nothing. It's no part of my duty to see all the old
women in the house die, and I won't--that's more. Mind that, you
impudent old harridans. If you make a fool of me again, I'll
soon cure you, I warrant you!'

She was bouncing away, when a cry from the two women, who had
turned towards the bed, caused her to look round. The patient
had raised herself upright, and was stretching her arms towards
them.

'Who's that?' she cried, in a hollow voice.

'Hush, hush!' said one of the women, stooping over her. 'Lie
down, lie down!'

'I'll never lie down again alive!' said the woman, struggling. 'I
_will_ tell her! Come here! Nearer! Let me whisper in your ear.'

She clutched the matron by the arm, and forcing her into a chair
by the bedside, was about to speak, when looking round, she
caught sight of the two old women bending forward in the attitude
of eager listeners.

'Turn them away,' said the woman, drowsily; 'make haste! make
haste!'

The two old crones, chiming in together, began pouring out many
piteous lamentations that the poor dear was too far gone to know
her best friends; and were uttering sundry protestations that
they would never leave her, when the superior pushed them from
the room, closed the door, and returned to the bedside. On being
excluded, the old ladies changed their tone, and cried through
the keyhole that old Sally was drunk; which, indeed, was not
unlikely; since, in addition to a moderate dose of opium
prescribed by the apothecary, she was labouring under the effects
of a final taste of gin-and-water which had been privily
administered, in the openness of their hearts, by the worthy old
ladies themselves.

'Now listen to me,' said the dying woman aloud, as if making a
great effort to revive one latent spark of energy. 'In this very
room--in this very bed--I once nursed a pretty young creetur',
that was brought into the house with her feet cut and bruised
with walking, and all soiled with dust and blood. She gave birth
to a boy, and died. Let me think--what was the year again!'

'Never mind the year,' said the impatient auditor; 'what about
her?'

'Ay,' murmured the sick woman, relapsing into her former drowsy
state, 'what about her?--what about--I know!' she cried, jumping
fiercely up: her face flushed, and her eyes starting from her
head--'I robbed her, so I did! She wasn't cold--I tell you she
wasn't cold, when I stole it!'

'Stole what, for God's sake?' cried the matron, with a gesture as
if she would call for help.

'_It_!' replied the woman, laying her hand over the other's mouth.
'The only thing she had. She wanted clothes to keep her warm,
and food to eat; but she had kept it safe, and had it in her
bosom. It was gold, I tell you! Rich gold, that might have
saved her life!'

'Gold!' echoed the matron, bending eagerly over the woman as she
fell back. 'Go on, go on--yes--what of it? Who was the mother?
When was it?'

'She charge me to keep it safe,' replied the woman with a groan,
'and trusted me as the only woman about her. I stole it in my
heart when she first showed it me hanging round her neck; and the
child's death, perhaps, is on me besides! They would have
treated him better, if they had known it all!'

'Known what?' asked the other. 'Speak!'

'The boy grew so like his mother,' said the woman, rambling on,
and not heeding the question, 'that I could never forget it when
I saw his face. Poor girl! poor girl! She was so young, too!
Such a gentle lamb! Wait; there's more to tell. I have not told
you all, have I?'

'No, no,' replied the matron, inclining her head to catch the
words, as they came more faintly from the dying woman. 'Be
quick, or it may be too late!'

'The mother,' said the woman, making a more violent effort than
before; 'the mother, when the pains of death first came upon her,
whispered in my ear that if her baby was born alive, and thrived,
the day might come when it would not feel so much disgraced to
hear its poor young mother named. "And oh, kind Heaven!" she
said, folding her thin hands together, "whether it be boy or
girl, raise up some friends for it in this troubled world, and
take pity upon a lonely desolate child, abandoned to its mercy!"'

'The boy's name?' demanded the matron.

'They _called_ him Oliver,' replied the woman, feebly. 'The gold I
stole was--'

'Yes, yes--what?' cried the other.

She was bending eagerly over the woman to hear her reply; but
drew back, instinctively, as she once again rose, slowly and
stiffly, into a sitting posture; then, clutching the coverlid
with both hands, muttered some indistinct sounds in her throat,
and fell lifeless on the bed.

* * * * * * *

'Stone dead!' said one of the old women, hurrying in as soon as
the door was opened.

'And nothing to tell, after all,' rejoined the matron, walking
carelessly away.

The two crones, to all appearance, too busily occupied in the
preparations for their dreadful duties to make any reply, were
left alone, hovering about the body.

CHAPTER XXV

WHEREIN THIS HISTORY REVERTS TO MR. FAGIN AND COMPANY

While these things were passing in the country workhouse, Mr.
Fagin sat in the old den--the same from which Oliver had been
removed by the girl--brooding over a dull, smoky fire. He held a
pair of bellows upon his knee, with which he had apparently been
endeavouring to rouse it into more cheerful action; but he had
fallen into deep thought; and with his arms folded on them, and
his chin resting on his thumbs, fixed his eyes, abstractedly, on
the rusty bars.

At a table behind him sat the Artful Dodger, Master Charles
Bates, and Mr. Chitling: all intent upon a game of whist; the
Artful taking dummy against Master Bates and Mr. Chitling. The
countenance of the first-named gentleman, peculiarly intelligent
at all times, acquired great additional interest from his close
observance of the game, and his attentive perusal of Mr.
Chitling's hand; upon which, from time to time, as occasion
served, he bestowed a variety of earnest glances: wisely
regulating his own play by the result of his observations upon
his neighbour's cards. It being a cold night, the Dodger wore
his hat, as, indeed, was often his custom within doors. He also
sustained a clay pipe between his teeth, which he only removed
for a brief space when he deemed it necessary to apply for
refreshment to a quart pot upon the table, which stood ready
filled with gin-and-water for the accommodation of the company.

Master Bates was also attentive to the play; but being of a more
excitable nature than his accomplished friend, it was observable
that he more frequently applied himself to the gin-and-water, and
moreover indulged in many jests and irrelevant remarks, all
highly unbecoming a scientific rubber. Indeed, the Artful,
presuming upon their close attachment, more than once took
occasion to reason gravely with his companion upon these
improprieties; all of which remonstrances, Master Bates received
in extremely good part; merely requesting his friend to be
'blowed,' or to insert his head in a sack, or replying with some
other neatly-turned witticism of a similar kind, the happy
application of which, excited considerable admiration in the mind
of Mr. Chitling. It was remarkable that the latter gentleman and
his partner invariably lost; and that the circumstance, so far
from angering Master Bates, appeared to afford him the highest
amusement, inasmuch as he laughed most uproariously at the end of
every deal, and protested that he had never seen such a jolly
game in all his born days.

'That's two doubles and the rub,' said Mr. Chitling, with a very
long face, as he drew half-a-crown from his waistcoat-pocket. 'I
never see such a feller as you, Jack; you win everything. Even
when we've good cards, Charley and I can't make nothing of 'em.'

Either the master or the manner of this remark, which was made
very ruefully, delighted Charley Bates so much, that his
consequent shout of laughter roused the Jew from his reverie, and
induced him to inquire what was the matter.

'Matter, Fagin!' cried Charley. 'I wish you had watched the
play. Tommy Chitling hasn't won a point; and I went partners
with him against the Artfull and dumb.'

'Ay, ay!' said the Jew, with a grin, which sufficiently
demonstrated that he was at no loss to understand the reason.
'Try 'em again, Tom; try 'em again.'

'No more of it for me, thank 'ee, Fagin,' replied Mr. Chitling;
'I've had enough. That 'ere Dodger has such a run of luck that
there's no standing again' him.'

'Ha! ha! my dear,' replied the Jew, 'you must get up very early
in the morning, to win against the Dodger.'

'Morning!' said Charley Bates; 'you must put your boots on
over-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass
between your shoulders, if you want to come over him.'

Mr. Dawkins received these handsome compliments with much
philosophy, and offered to cut any gentleman in company, for the
first picture-card, at a shilling at a time. Nobody accepting
the challenge, and his pipe being by this time smoked out, he
proceeded to amuse himself by sketching a ground-plan of Newgate
on the table with the piece of chalk which had served him in lieu
of counters; whistling, meantime, with peculiar shrillness.

'How precious dull you are, Tommy!' said the Dodger, stopping
short when there had been a long silence; and addressing Mr.
Chitling. 'What do you think he's thinking of, Fagin?'

'How should I know, my dear?' replied the Jew, looking round as
he plied the bellows. 'About his losses, maybe; or the little
retirement in the country that he's just left, eh? Ha! ha! Is
that it, my dear?'

'Not a bit of it,' replied the Dodger, stopping the subject of
discourse as Mr. Chitling was about to reply. 'What do _you_ say,
Charley?'

'_I_ should say,' replied Master Bates, with a grin, 'that he was
uncommon sweet upon Betsy. See how he's a-blushing! Oh, my eye!
here's a merry-go-rounder! Tommy Chitling's in love! Oh, Fagin,
Fagin! what a spree!'

Thoroughly overpowered with the notion of Mr. Chitling being the
victim of the tender passion, Master Bates threw himself back in
his chair with such violence, that he lost his balance, and
pitched over upon the floor; where (the accident abating nothing
of his merriment) he lay at full length until his laugh was over,
when he resumed his former position, and began another laugh.

'Never mind him, my dear,' said the Jew, winking at Mr. Dawkins,
and giving Master Bates a reproving tap with the nozzle of the
bellows. 'Betsy's a fine girl. Stick up to her, Tom. Stick up
to her.'

'What I mean to say, Fagin,' replied Mr. Chitling, very red in
the face, 'is, that that isn't anything to anybody here.'

'No more it is,' replied the Jew; 'Charley will talk. Don't mind
him, my dear; don't mind him. Betsy's a fine girl. Do as she
bids you, Tom, and you will make your fortune.'

'So I _do_ do as she bids me,' replied Mr. Chitling; 'I shouldn't
have been milled, if it hadn't been for her advice. But it
turned out a good job for you; didn't it, Fagin! And what's six
weeks of it? It must come, some time or another, and why not in
the winter time when you don't want to go out a-walking so much;
eh, Fagin?'

'Ah, to be sure, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'You wouldn't mind it again, Tom, would you,' asked the Dodger,
winking upon Charley and the Jew, 'if Bet was all right?'

'I mean to say that I shouldn't,' replied Tom, angrily. 'There,
now. Ah! Who'll say as much as that, I should like to know; eh,
Fagin?'

'Nobody, my dear,' replied the Jew; 'not a soul, Tom. I don't
know one of 'em that would do it besides you; not one of 'em, my
dear.'

'I might have got clear off, if I'd split upon her; mightn't I,
Fagin?' angrily pursued the poor half-witted dupe. 'A word from
me would have done it; wouldn't it, Fagin?'

'To be sure it would, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'But I didn't blab it; did I, Fagin?' demanded Tom, pouring
question upon question with great volubility.

'No, no, to be sure,' replied the Jew; 'you were too
stout-hearted for that. A deal too stout, my dear!'

'Perhaps I was,' rejoined Tom, looking round; 'and if I was,
what's to laugh at, in that; eh, Fagin?'

The Jew, perceiving that Mr. Chitling was considerably roused,
hastened to assure him that nobody was laughing; and to prove the
gravity of the company, appealed to Master Bates, the principal
offender. But, unfortunately, Charley, in opening his mouth to
reply that he was never more serious in his life, was unable to
prevent the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr.
Chitling, without any preliminary ceremonies, rushed across the
room and aimed a blow at the offender; who, being skilful in
evading pursuit, ducked to avoid it, and chose his time so well
that it lighted on the chest of the merry old gentleman, and
caused him to stagger to the wall, where he stood panting for
breath, while Mr. Chitling looked on in intense dismay.

'Hark!' cried the Dodger at this moment, 'I heard the tinkler.'
Catching up the light, he crept softly upstairs.

The bell was rung again, with some impatience, while the party
were in darkness. After a short pause, the Dodger reappeared,
and whispered Fagin mysteriously.

'What!' cried the Jew, 'alone?'

The Dodger nodded in the affirmative, and, shading the flame of
the candle with his hand, gave Charley Bates a private
intimation, in dumb show, that he had better not be funny just
then. Having performed this friendly office, he fixed his eyes
on the Jew's face, and awaited his directions.

The old man bit his yellow fingers, and meditated for some
seconds; his face working with agitation the while, as if he
dreaded something, and feared to know the worst. At length he
raised his head.

'Where is he?' he asked.

The Dodger pointed to the floor above, and made a gesture, as if
to leave the room.

'Yes,' said the Jew, answering the mute inquiry; 'bring him down.
Hush! Quiet, Charley! Gently, Tom! Scarce, scarce!'

This brief direction to Charley Bates, and his recent antagonist,
was softly and immediately obeyed. There was no sound of their
whereabout, when the Dodger descended the stairs, bearing the
light in his hand, and followed by a man in a coarse smock-frock;
who, after casting a hurried glance round the room, pulled off a
large wrapper which had concealed the lower portion of his face,
and disclosed: all haggard, unwashed, and unshorn: the features
of flash Toby Crackit.

'How are you, Faguey?' said this worthy, nodding to the Jew. 'Pop
that shawl away in my castor, Dodger, so that I may know where to
find it when I cut; that's the time of day! You'll be a fine
young cracksman afore the old file now.'

With these words he pulled up the smock-frock; and, winding it
round his middle, drew a chair to the fire, and placed his feet
upon the hob.

'See there, Faguey,' he said, pointing disconsolately to his top
boots; 'not a drop of Day and Martin since you know when; not a
bubble of blacking, by Jove! But don't look at me in that way,
man. All in good time. I can't talk about business till I've
eat and drank; so produce the sustainance, and let's have a quiet
fill-out for the first time these three days!'

The Jew motioned to the Dodger to place what eatables there were,
upon the table; and, seating himself opposite the housebreaker,
waited his leisure.

To judge from appearances, Toby was by no means in a hurry to
open the conversation. At first, the Jew contented himself with
patiently watching his countenance, as if to gain from its
expression some clue to the intelligence he brought; but in vain.

He looked tired and worn, but there was the same complacent
repose upon his features that they always wore: and through
dirt, and beard, and whisker, there still shone, unimpaired, the
self-satisfied smirk of flash Toby Crackit. Then the Jew, in an
agony of impatience, watched every morsel he put into his mouth;
pacing up and down the room, meanwhile, in irrepressible
excitement. It was all of no use. Toby continued to eat with
the utmost outward indifference, until he could eat no more;
then, ordering the Dodger out, he closed the door, mixed a glass
of spirits and water, and composed himself for talking.

'First and foremost, Faguey,' said Toby.

'Yes, yes!' interposed the Jew, drawing up his chair.

Mr. Crackit stopped to take a draught of spirits and water, and
to declare that the gin was excellent; then placing his feet
against the low mantelpiece, so as to bring his boots to about
the level of his eye, he quietly resumed.

'First and foremost, Faguey,' said the housebreaker, 'how's
Bill?'

'What!' screamed the Jew, starting from his seat.

'Why, you don't mean to say--' began Toby, turning pale.

'Mean!' cried the Jew, stamping furiously on the ground. 'Where
are they? Sikes and the boy! Where are they? Where have they
been? Where are they hiding? Why have they not been here?'

'The crack failed,' said Toby faintly.

'I know it,' replied the Jew, tearing a newspaper from his pocket
and pointing to it. 'What more?'

'They fired and hit the boy. We cut over the fields at the back,
with him between us--straight as the crow flies--through hedge
and ditch. They gave chase. Damme! the whole country was awake,
and the dogs upon us.'

'The boy!'

'Bill had him on his back, and scudded like the wind. We stopped
to take him between us; his head hung down, and he was cold.
They were close upon our heels; every man for himself, and each
from the gallows! We parted company, and left the youngster
lying in a ditch. Alive or dead, that's all I know about him.'

The Jew stopped to hear no more; but uttering a loud yell, and
twining his hands in his hair, rushed from the room, and from the
house.

CHAPTER XXVI

IN WHICH A MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER APPEARS UPON THE SCENE; AND MANY
THINGS, INSEPARABLE FROM THIS HISTORY, ARE DONE AND PERFORMED

The old man had gained the street corner, before he began to
recover the effect of Toby Crackit's intelligence. He had
relaxed nothing of his unusual speed; but was still pressing
onward, in the same wild and disordered manner, when the sudden
dashing past of a carriage: and a boisterous cry from the foot
passengers, who saw his danger: drove him back upon the
pavement. Avoiding, as much as was possible, all the main
streets, and skulking only through the by-ways and alleys, he at
length emerged on Snow Hill. Here he walked even faster than
before; nor did he linger until he had again turned into a court;
when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper element, he
fell into his usual shuffling pace, and seemed to breathe more
freely.

Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens,
upon the right hand as you come out of the City, a narrow and
dismal alley, leading to Saffron Hill. In its filthy shops are
exposed for sale huge bunches of second-hand silk handkerchiefs,
of all sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders who
purchase them from pick-pockets. Hundreds of these handkerchiefs
hang dangling from pegs outside the windows or flaunting from the
door-posts; and the shelves, within, are piled with them.
Confined as the limits of Field Lane are, it has its barber, its
coffee-shop, its beer-shop, and its fried-fish warehouse. It is
a commercial colony of itself: the emporium of petty larceny:
visited at early morning, and setting-in of dusk, by silent
merchants, who traffic in dark back-parlours, and who go as
strangely as they come. Here, the clothesman, the shoe-vamper,
and the rag-merchant, display their goods, as sign-boards to the
petty thief; here, stores of old iron and bones, and heaps of
mildewy fragments of woollen-stuff and linen, rust and rot in the
grimy cellars.

It was into this place that the Jew turned. He was well known to
the sallow denizens of the lane; for such of them as were on the
look-out to buy or sell, nodded, familiarly, as he passed along.
He replied to their salutations in the same way; but bestowed no
closer recognition until he reached the further end of the alley;
when he stopped, to address a salesman of small stature, who had
squeezed as much of his person into a child's chair as the chair
would hold, and was smoking a pipe at his warehouse door.

'Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalmy!'
said this respectable trader, in acknowledgment of the Jew's
inquiry after his health.

'The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,' said Fagin,
elevating his eyebrows, and crossing his hands upon his
shoulders.

'Well, I've heerd that complaint of it, once or twice before,'
replied the trader; 'but it soon cools down again; don't you find
it so?'

Fagin nodded in the affirmative. Pointing in the direction of
Saffron Hill, he inquired whether any one was up yonder to-night.

'At the Cripples?' inquired the man.

The Jew nodded.

'Let me see,' pursued the merchant, reflecting.

'Yes, there's some half-dozen of 'em gone in, that I knows. I
don't think your friend's there.'

'Sikes is not, I suppose?' inquired the Jew, with a disappointed
countenance.

'_Non istwentus_, as the lawyers say,' replied the little man,
shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly. 'Have you got
anything in my line to-night?'

'Nothing to-night,' said the Jew, turning away.

'Are you going up to the Cripples, Fagin?' cried the little man,
calling after him. 'Stop! I don't mind if I have a drop there
with you!'

But as the Jew, looking back, waved his hand to intimate that he
preferred being alone; and, moreover, as the little man could not
very easily disengage himself from the chair; the sign of the
Cripples was, for a time, bereft of the advantage of Mr. Lively's
presence. By the time he had got upon his legs, the Jew had
disappeared; so Mr. Lively, after ineffectually standing on
tiptoe, in the hope of catching sight of him, again forced
himself into the little chair, and, exchanging a shake of the
head with a lady in the opposite shop, in which doubt and
mistrust were plainly mingled, resumed his pipe with a grave
demeanour.

The Three Cripples, or rather the Cripples; which was the sign by
which the establishment was familiarly known to its patrons: was
the public-house in which Mr. Sikes and his dog have already
figured. Merely making a sign to a man at the bar, Fagin walked
straight upstairs, and opening the door of a room, and softly
insinuating himself into the chamber, looked anxiously about:
shading his eyes with his hand, as if in search of some
particular person.

The room was illuminated by two gas-lights; the glare of which
was prevented by the barred shutters, and closely-drawn curtains
of faded red, from being visible outside. The ceiling was
blackened, to prevent its colour from being injured by the
flaring of the lamps; and the place was so full of dense tobacco
smoke, that at first it was scarcely possible to discern anything
more. By degrees, however, as some of it cleared away through
the open door, an assemblage of heads, as confused as the noises
that greeted the ear, might be made out; and as the eye grew more
accustomed to the scene, the spectator gradually became aware of
the presence of a numerous company, male and female, crowded
round a long table: at the upper end of which, sat a chairman
with a hammer of office in his hand; while a professional
gentleman with a bluish nose, and his face tied up for the
benefit of a toothache, presided at a jingling piano in a remote
corner.

As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, running
over the keys by way of prelude, occasioned a general cry of
order for a song; which having subsided, a young lady proceeded
to entertain the company with a ballad in four verses, between
each of which the accompanyist played the melody all through, as
loud as he could. When this was over, the chairman gave a
sentiment, after which, the professional gentleman on the
chairman's right and left volunteered a duet, and sang it, with
great applause.

It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominently
from among the group. There was the chairman himself, (the
landlord of the house,) a coarse, rough, heavy built fellow, who,
while the songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither and
thither, and, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eye
for everything that was done, and an ear for everything that was
said--and sharp ones, too. Near him were the singers:
receiving, with professional indifference, the compliments of the
company, and applying themselves, in turn, to a dozen proffered
glasses of spirits and water, tendered by their more boisterous
admirers; whose countenances, expressive of almost every vice in
almost every grade, irresistibly attracted the attention, by
their very repulsiveness. Cunning, ferocity, and drunkeness in
all its stages, were there, in their strongest aspect; and women:
some with the last lingering tinge of their early freshness
almost fading as you looked: others with every mark and stamp of
their sex utterly beaten out, and presenting but one loathsome
blank of profligacy and crime; some mere girls, others but young
women, and none past the prime of life; formed the darkest and
saddest portion of this dreary picture.

Fagin, troubled by no grave emotions, looked eagerly from face to
face while these proceedings were in progress; but apparently
without meeting that of which he was in search. Succeeding, at
length, in catching the eye of the man who occupied the chair, he
beckoned to him slightly, and left the room, as quietly as he had
entered it.

'What can I do for you, Mr. Fagin?' inquired the man, as he
followed him out to the landing. 'Won't you join us? They'll be
delighted, every one of 'em.'

The Jew shook his head impatiently, and said in a whisper, 'Is _he_
here?'

'No,' replied the man.

'And no news of Barney?' inquired Fagin.

'None,' replied the landlord of the Cripples; for it was he. 'He
won't stir till it's all safe. Depend on it, they're on the
scent down there; and that if he moved, he'd blow upon the thing
at once. He's all right enough, Barney is, else I should have
heard of him. I'll pound it, that Barney's managing properly.
Let him alone for that.'

'Will _he_ be here to-night?' asked the Jew, laying the same
emphasis on the pronoun as before.

'Monks, do you mean?' inquired the landlord, hesitating.

'Hush!' said the Jew. 'Yes.'

'Certain,' replied the man, drawing a gold watch from his fob; 'I
expected him here before now. If you'll wait ten minutes, he'll
be--'

'No, no,' said the Jew, hastily; as though, however desirous he
might be to see the person in question, he was nevertheless
relieved by his absence. 'Tell him I came here to see him; and
that he must come to me to-night. No, say to-morrow. As he is
not here, to-morrow will be time enough.'

'Good!' said the man. 'Nothing more?'

'Not a word now,' said the Jew, descending the stairs.

'I say,' said the other, looking over the rails, and speaking in
a hoarse whisper; 'what a time this would be for a sell! I've
got Phil Barker here: so drunk, that a boy might take him!'

'Ah! But it's not Phil Barker's time,' said the Jew, looking up.

'Phil has something more to do, before we can afford to part with
him; so go back to the company, my dear, and tell them to lead
merry lives--_while they last_. Ha! ha! ha!'

The landlord reciprocated the old man's laugh; and returned to
his guests. The Jew was no sooner alone, than his countenance
resumed its former expression of anxiety and thought. After a
brief reflection, he called a hack-cabriolet, and bade the man
drive towards Bethnal Green. He dismissed him within some quarter
of a mile of Mr. Sikes's residence, and performed the short
remainder of the distance, on foot.

'Now,' muttered the Jew, as he knocked at the door, 'if there is
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 conciliatory
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 strong 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 gallantry 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
apron-string, round which it 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.
Corney, with great propriety, turned her head away, and released
her hand to get at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly
replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.

'The board allows you coals, don't they, Mrs. Corney?' inquired
the beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.

'And candles,' replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the
pressure.

'Coals, candles, and house-rent free,' said Mr. Bumble. 'Oh,
Mrs. Corney, what an Angel you are!'

The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank
into Mr. Bumble's arms; and that gentleman in his agitation,
imprinted a passionate kiss upon her chaste nose.

'Such porochial perfection!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously.
'You know that Mr. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?'

'Yes,' replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.

'He can't live a week, the doctor says,' pursued Mr. Bumble. 'He
is the master of this establishment; his death will cause a
wacancy; that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a
prospect this opens! What a opportunity for a jining of hearts
and housekeepings!'

Mrs. Corney sobbed.

'The little word?' said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful
beauty. 'The one little, little, little word, my blessed
Corney?'

'Ye--ye--yes!' sighed out the matron.

'One more,' pursued the beadle; 'compose your darling feelings
for only one more. When is it to come off?'

Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length
summoning up courage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble's
neck, and said, it might be as soon as ever he pleased, and that
he was 'a irresistible duck.'

Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the
contract was solemnly ratified in another teacupful of the
peppermint mixture; which was rendered the more necessary, by the
flutter and agitation of the lady's spirits. While it was being
disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the old woman's
decease.

'Very good,' said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint; 'I'll
call at Sowerberry's as I go home, and tell him to send to-morrow
morning. Was it that as frightened you, love?'

'It wasn't anything particular, dear,' said the lady evasively.

'It must have been something, love,' urged Mr. Bumble. 'Won't you
tell your own B.?'

'Not now,' rejoined the lady; 'one of these days. After we're
married, dear.'

'After we're married!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble. 'It wasn't any
impudence from any of them male paupers as--'

'No, no, love!' interposed the lady, hastily.

'If I thought it was,' continued Mr. Bumble; 'if I thought as any
one of 'em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovely
countenance--'

'They wouldn't have dared to do it, love,' responded the lady.

'They had better not!' said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. 'Let
me see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to
do it; and I can tell him that he wouldn't do it a second time!'

Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have
seemed no very high compliment to the lady's charms; but, as Mr.
Bumble accompanied the threat with many warlike gestures, she was
much touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested, with
great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.

The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked
hat; and, having exchanged a long and affectionate embrace with
his future partner, once again braved the cold wind of the night:
merely pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers' ward, to
abuse them a little, with the view of satisfying himself that he
could fill the office of workhouse-master with needful acerbity.
Assured of his qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with
a light heart, and bright visions of his future promotion: which
served to occupy his mind until he reached the shop of the
undertaker.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper:
and Noah Claypole not being at any time disposed to take upon
himself a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary
to a convenient performance of the two functions of eating and
drinking, the shop was not closed, although it was past the usual
hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the
counter several times; but, attracting no attention, and
beholding a light shining through the glass-window of the little
parlour at the back of the shop, he made bold to peep in and see
what was going forward; and when he saw what was going forward,
he was not a little surprised.

The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread
and butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle.
At the upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled
negligently in an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of
the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass of buttered
bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening
oysters from a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to
swallow, with remarkable avidity. A more than ordinary redness
in the region of the young gentleman's nose, and a kind of fixed
wink in his right eye, denoted that he was in a slight degree
intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish
with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong
appreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of internal
fever, could have sufficiently accounted.

'Here's a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!' said Charlotte; 'try
him, do; only this one.'

'What a delicious thing is a oyster!' remarked Mr. Claypole,
after he had swallowed it. 'What a pity it is, a number of 'em
should ever make you feel uncomfortable; isn't it, Charlotte?'

'It's quite a cruelty,' said Charlotte.

'So it is,' acquiesced Mr. Claypole. 'An't yer fond of oysters?'

'Not overmuch,' replied Charlotte. 'I like to see you eat 'em,
Noah dear, better than eating 'em myself.'

'Lor!' said Noah, reflectively; 'how queer!'

'Have another,' said Charlotte. 'Here's one with such a
beautiful, delicate beard!'

'I can't manage any more,' said Noah. 'I'm very sorry. Come
here, Charlotte, and I'll kiss yer.'

'What!' said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. 'Say that
again, sir.'

Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr.
Claypole, without making any further change in his position than
suffering his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in
drunken terror.

'Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!' said Mr. Bumble. 'How
dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage
him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in
strong indignation. 'Faugh!'

'I didn't mean to do it!' said Noah, blubbering. 'She's always
a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.'

'Oh, Noah,' cried Charlotte, reproachfully.

'Yer are; yer know yer are!' retorted Noah. 'She's always
a-doin' of it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin,
please, sir; and makes all manner of love!'

'Silence!' cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. 'Take yourself downstairs,
ma'am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till your
master comes home, at your peril; and, when he does come home,
tell him that Mr. Bumble said he was to send a old woman's shell
after breakfast to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!'
cried Mr. Bumble, holding up his hands. 'The sin and wickedness
of the lower orders in this porochial district is frightful! If
Parliament don't take their abominable courses under
consideration, this country's ruined, and the character of the
peasantry gone for ever!' With these words, the beadle strode,
with a lofty and gloomy air, from the undertaker's premises.

And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and
have made all necessary preparations for the old woman's funeral,
let us set on foot a few inquires after young Oliver Twist, and
ascertain whether he be still lying in the ditch where Toby
Crackit left him.

CHAPTER XXVIII

LOOKS AFTER OLIVER, AND PROCEEDS WITH HIS ADVENTURES

'Wolves tear your throats!' muttered Sikes, grinding his teeth.
'I wish I was among some of you; you'd howl the hoarser for it.'

As Sikes growled forth this imprecation, with the most desperate
ferocity that his desperate nature was capable of, he rested the
body of the wounded boy across his bended knee; and turned his
head, for an instant, to look back at his pursuers.

There was little to be made out, in the mist and darkness; but
the loud shouting of men vibrated through the air, and the
barking of the neighbouring dogs, roused by the sound of the
alarm bell, resounded in every direction.

'Stop, you white-livered hound!' cried the robber, shouting after
Toby Crackit, who, making the best use of his long legs, was
already ahead. 'Stop!'

The repetition of the word, brought Toby to a dead stand-still.
For he was not quite satisfied that he was beyond the range of
pistol-shot; and Sikes was in no mood to be played with.

'Bear a hand with the boy,' cried Sikes, beckoning furiously to
his confederate. 'Come back!'

Toby made a show of returning; but ventured, in a low voice,
broken for want of breath, to intimate considerable reluctance as
he came slowly along.

'Quicker!' cried Sikes, laying the boy in a dry ditch at his
feet, and drawing a pistol from his pocket. 'Don't play booty
with me.'

At this moment the noise grew louder. Sikes, again looking
round, could discern that the men who had given chase were
already climbing the gate of the field in which he stood; and
that a couple of dogs were some paces in advance of them.

'It's all up, Bill!' cried Toby; 'drop the kid, and show 'em your
heels.' With this parting advice, Mr. Crackit, preferring the
chance of being shot by his friend, to the certainty of being
taken by his enemies, fairly turned tail, and darted off at full
speed. Sikes clenched his teeth; took one look around; threw
over the prostrate form of Oliver, the cape in which he had been
hurriedly muffled; ran along the front of the hedge, as if to
distract the attention of those behind, from the spot where the
boy lay; paused, for a second, before another hedge which met it
at right angles; and whirling his pistol high into the air,
cleared it at a bound, and was gone.

'Ho, ho, there!' cried a tremulous voice in the rear. 'Pincher!
Neptune! Come here, come here!'

The dogs, who, in common with their masters, seemed to have no
particular relish for the sport in which they were engaged,
readily answered to the command. Three men, who had by this time
advanced some distance into the field, stopped to take counsel
together.

'My advice, or, leastways, I should say, my _orders_, is,' said the
fattest man of the party, 'that we 'mediately go home again.'

'I am agreeable to anything which is agreeable to Mr. Giles,'
said a shorter man; who was by no means of a slim figure, and who
was very pale in the face, and very polite: as frightened men
frequently are.

'I shouldn't wish to appear ill-mannered, gentlemen,' said the
third, who had called the dogs back, 'Mr. Giles ought to know.'

'Certainly,' replied the shorter man; 'and whatever Mr. Giles
says, it isn't our place to contradict him. No, no, I know my
sitiwation! Thank my stars, I know my sitiwation.' To tell the
truth, the little man _did_ seem to know his situation, and to know
perfectly well that it was by no means a desirable one; for his
teeth chattered in his head as he spoke.

'You are afraid, Brittles,' said Mr. Giles.

'I an't,' said Brittles.

'You are,' said Giles.

'You're a falsehood, Mr. Giles,' said Brittles.

'You're a lie, Brittles,' said Mr. Giles.

Now, these four retorts arose from Mr. Giles's taunt; and Mr.
Giles's taunt had arisen from his indignation at having the
responsibility of going home again, imposed upon himself under
cover of a compliment. The third man brought the dispute to a
close, most philosophically.

'I'll tell you what it is, gentlemen,' said he, 'we're all
afraid.'

'Speak for yourself, sir,' said Mr. Giles, who was the palest of
the party.

'So I do,' replied the man. 'It's natural and proper to be
afraid, under such circumstances. I am.'

'So am I,' said Brittles; 'only there's no call to tell a man he
is, so bounceably.'

These frank admissions softened Mr. Giles, who at once owned that
_he_ was afraid; upon which, they all three faced about, and ran
back again with the completest unanimity, until Mr. Giles (who
had the shortest wind of the party, as was encumbered with a
pitchfork) most handsomely insisted on stopping, to make an
apology for his hastiness of speech.

'But it's wonderful,' said Mr. Giles, when he had explained,
'what a man will do, when his blood is up. I should have
committed murder--I know I should--if we'd caught one of them
rascals.'

As the other two were impressed with a similar presentiment; and
as their blood, like his, had all gone down again; some
speculation ensued upon the cause of this sudden change in their
temperament.

'I know what it was,' said Mr. Giles; 'it was the gate.'

'I shouldn't wonder if it was,' exclaimed Brittles, catching at
the idea.

'You may depend upon it,' said Giles, 'that that gate stopped the
flow of the excitement. I felt all mine suddenly going away, as
I was climbing over it.'

By a remarkable coincidence, the other two had been visited with
the same unpleasant sensation at that precise moment. It was
quite obvious, therefore, that it was the gate; especially as
there was no doubt regarding the time at which the change had
taken place, because all three remembered that they had come in
sight of the robbers at the instant of its occurance.

This dialogue was held between the two men who had surprised the
burglars, and a travelling tinker who had been sleeping in an
outhouse, and who had been roused, together with his two mongrel
curs, to join in the pursuit. Mr. Giles acted in the double
capacity of butler and steward to the old lady of the mansion;
Brittles was a lad of all-work: who, having entered her service a
mere child, was treated as a promising young boy still, though he
was something past thirty.

Encouraging each other with such converse as this; but, keeping
very close together, notwithstanding, and looking apprehensively
round, whenever a fresh gust rattled through the boughs; the
three men hurried back to a tree, behind which they had left
their lantern, lest its light should inform the thieves in what
direction to fire. Catching up the light, they made the best of
their way home, at a good round trot; and long after their dusky
forms had ceased to be discernible, the light might have been
seen twinkling and dancing in the distance, like some exhalation
of the damp and gloomy atmosphere through which it was swiftly
borne.

The air grew colder, as day came slowly on; and the mist rolled
along the ground like a dense cloud of smoke. The grass was wet;
the pathways, and low places, were all mire and water; the damp
breath of an unwholesome wind went languidly by, with a hollow
moaning. Still, Oliver lay motionless and insensible on the spot
where Sikes had left him.

Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing,
as its first dull hue--the death of night, rather than the birth
of day--glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had
looked dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more
defined, and gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The
rain came down, thick and fast, and pattered noisily among the
leafless bushes. But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against
him; for he still lay stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his
bed of clay.

At length, a low cry of pain broke the stillness that prevailed;
and uttering it, the boy awoke. His left arm, rudely bandaged in
a shawl, hung heavy and useless at his side; the bandage was
saturated with blood. He was so weak, that he could scarcely
raise himself into a sitting posture; when he had done so, he
looked feebly round for help, and groaned with pain. Trembling
in every joint, from cold and exhaustion, he made an effort to
stand upright; but, shuddering from head to foot, fell prostrate
on the ground.

After a short return of the stupor in which he had been so long
plunged, Oliver: urged by a creeping sickness at his heart,
which seemed to warn him that if he lay there, he must surely
die: got upon his feet, and essayed to walk. His head was dizzy,
and he staggered to and fro like a drunken man. But he kept up,
nevertheless, and, with his head drooping languidly on his
breast, went stumbling onward, he knew not whither.

And now, hosts of bewildering and confused ideas came crowding on
his mind. He seemed to be still walking between Sikes and
Crackit, who were angrily disputing--for the very words they
said, sounded in his ears; and when he caught his own attention,
as it were, by making some violent effort to save himself from
falling, he found that he was talking to them. Then, he was alone
with Sikes, plodding on as on the previous day; and as shadowy
people passed them, he felt the robber's grasp upon his wrist.
Suddenly, he started back at the report of firearms; there rose
into the air, loud cries and shouts; lights gleamed before his
eyes; all was noise and tumult, as some unseen hand bore him
hurriedly away. Through all these rapid visions, there ran an
undefined, uneasy consciousness of pain, which wearied and tormented
him incessantly.

Thus he staggered on, creeping, almost mechanically, between the
bars of gates, or through hedge-gaps as they came in his way,
until he reached a road. Here the rain began to fall so heavily,
that it roused him.

He looked about, and saw that at no great distance there was a
house, which perhaps he could reach. Pitying his condition, they
might have compassion on him; and if they did not, it would be
better, he thought, to die near human beings, than in the lonely
open fields. He summoned up all his strength for one last trial,
and bent his faltering steps towards it.

As he drew nearer to this house, a feeling come over him that he
had seen it before. He remembered nothing of its details; but
the shape and aspect of the building seemed familiar to him.

That garden wall! On the grass inside, he had fallen on his
knees last night, and prayed the two men's mercy. It was the
very house they had attempted to rob.

Oliver felt such fear come over him when he recognised the place,
that, for the instant, he forgot the agony of his wound, and
thought only of flight. Flight! He could scarcely stand: and
if he were in full possession of all the best powers of his
slight and youthful frame, whither could he fly? He pushed
against the garden-gate; it was unlocked, and swung open on its
hinges. He tottered across the lawn; climbed the steps; knocked
faintly at the door; and, his whole strength failing him, sunk
down against one of the pillars of the little portico.

It happened that about this time, Mr. Giles, Brittles, and the
tinker, were recruiting themselves, after the fatigues and
terrors of the night, with tea and sundries, in the kitchen. Not
that it was Mr. Giles's habit to admit to too great familiarity
the humbler servants: towards whom it was rather his wont to
deport himself with a lofty affability, which, while it
gratified, could not fail to remind them of his superior position
in society. But, death, fires, and burglary, make all men
equals; so Mr. Giles sat with his legs stretched out before the
kitchen fender, leaning his left arm on the table, while, with
his right, he illustrated a circumstantial and minute account of
the robbery, to which his bearers (but especially the cook and
housemaid, who were of the party) listened with breathless
interest.

'It was about half-past two,' said Mr. Giles, 'or I wouldn't
swear that it mightn't have been a little nearer three, when I
woke up, and, turning round in my bed, as it might be so, (here
Mr. Giles turned round in his chair, and pulled the corner of the
table-cloth over him to imitate bed-clothes,) I fancied I heerd a
noise.'

At this point of the narrative the cook turned pale, and asked
the housemaid to shut the door: who asked Brittles, who asked the
tinker, who pretended not to hear.

'--Heerd a noise,' continued Mr. Giles. 'I says, at first, "This
is illusion"; and was composing myself off to sleep, when I heerd
the noise again, distinct.'

'What sort of a noise?' asked the cook.

'A kind of a busting noise,' replied Mr. Giles, looking round
him.

'More like the noise of powdering a iron bar on a nutmeg-grater,'
suggested Brittles.

'It was, when _you_ heerd it, sir,' rejoined Mr. Giles; 'but, at
this time, it had a busting sound. I turned down the clothes';
continued Giles, rolling back the table-cloth, 'sat up in bed;
and listened.'

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