It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew: buttoning his great-coa_ight round his shrivelled body, and pulling the collar up over his ears so a_ompletely to obscure the lower part of his face: emerged from his den. H_aused on the step as the door was locked and chained behind him; and havin_istened while the boys made all secure, and until their retreating footstep_ere no longer audible, slunk down the street as quickly as he could.
The house to which Oliver had been conveyed, was in the neighborhood o_hitechapel. The Jew stopped for an instant at the corner of the street; and, glancing suspiciously round, crossed the road, and struck off in the directio_f the Spitalfields.
The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over the streets; th_ain fell sluggishly down, and everything felt cold and clammy to the touch.
It seemed just the night when it befitted such a being as the Jew to b_broad. As he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of th_alls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in search of some rich offal for a meal.
He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow ways, until he reache_ethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involve_n a maze of the mean and dirty streets which abound in that close an_ensely-populated quarter.
The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversed to be at al_ewildered, either by the darkness of the night, or the intricacies of th_ay. He hurried through several alleys and streets, and at length turned int_ne, lighted only by a single lamp at the farther end. At the door of a hous_n this street, he knocked; having exchanged a few muttered words with th_erson who opened it, he walked upstairs.
A dog growled as he touched the handle of a room-door; and a man's voic_emanded who was there.
'Only me, Bill; only me, my dear,' said the Jew looking in.
'Bring in your body then,' said Sikes. 'Lie down, you stupid brute! Don't yo_now the devil when he's got a great-coat on?'
Apparently, the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin's outer garment; for as the Jew unbuttoned it, and threw it over the back of a chair, h_etired to the corner from which he had risen: wagging his tail as he went, t_how that he was as well satisfied as it was in his nature to be.
'Well!' said Sikes.
'Well, my dear,' replied the Jew.—'Ah! Nancy.'
The latter recognition was uttered with just enough of embarrassment to impl_ doubt of its reception; for Mr. Fagin and his young friend had not met, since she had interfered in behalf of Oliver. All doubts upon the subject, i_e had any, were speedily removed by the young lady's behaviour. She took he_eet off the fender, pushed back her chair, and bade Fagin draw up his, without saying more about it: for it was a cold night, and no mistake.
'It is cold, Nancy dear,' said the Jew, as he warmed his skinny hands over th_ire. 'It seems to go right through one,' added the old man, touching hi_ide.
'It must be a piercer, if it finds its way through your heart,' said Mr.
Sikes. 'Give him something to drink, Nancy. Burn my body, make haste! It'_nough to turn a man ill, to see his lean old carcase shivering in that way, like a ugly ghost just rose from the grave.'
Nancy quickly brought a bottle from a cupboard, in which there were many: which, to judge from the diversity of their appearance, were filled wit_everal kinds of liquids. Sikes pouring out a glass of brandy, bade the Je_rink it off.
'Quite enough, quite, thankye, Bill,' replied the Jew, putting down the glas_fter just setting his lips to it.
'What! You're afraid of our getting the better of you, are you?' inquire_ikes, fixing his eyes on the Jew. 'Ugh!'
With a hoarse grunt of contempt, Mr. Sikes seized the glass, and threw th_emainder of its contents into the ashes: as a preparatory ceremony to fillin_t again for himself: which he did at once.
The Jew glanced round the room, as his companion tossed down the secon_lassful; not in curiousity, for he had seen it often before; but in _estless and suspicious manner habitual to him. It was a meanly furnishe_partment, with nothing but the contents of the closet to induce the belie_hat its occupier was anything but a working man; and with no more suspiciou_rticles displayed to view than two or three heavy bludgeons which stood in _orner, and a 'life-preserver' that hung over the chimney-piece.
'There,' said Sikes, smacking his lips. 'Now I'm ready.'
'For business?' inquired the Jew.
'For business,' replied Sikes; 'so say what you've got to say.'
'About the crib at Chertsey, Bill?' said the Jew, drawing his chair forward, and speaking in a very low voice.
'Yes. Wot about it?' inquired Sikes.
'Ah! you know what I mean, my dear,' said the Jew. 'He knows what I mean, Nancy; don't he?'
'No, he don't,' sneered Mr. Sikes. 'Or he won't, and that's the same thing.
Speak out, and call things by their right names; don't sit there, winking an_linking, and talking to me in hints, as if you warn't the very first tha_hought about the robbery. Wot d'ye mean?'
'Hush, Bill, hush!' said the Jew, who had in vain attempted to stop this burs_f indignation; 'somebody will hear us, my dear. Somebody will hear us.'
'Let 'em hear!' said Sikes; 'I don't care.' But as Mr. Sikes DID care, o_eflection, he dropped his voice as he said the words, and grew calmer.
'There, there,' said the Jew, coaxingly. 'It was only my caution, nothin_ore. Now, my dear, about that crib at Chertsey; when is it to be done, Bill, eh? When is it to be done? Such plate, my dear, such plate!' said the Jew: rubbing his hands, and elevating his eyebrows in a rapture of anticipation.
'Not at all,' replied Sikes coldly.
'Not to be done at all!' echoed the Jew, leaning back in his chair.
'No, not at all,' rejoined Sikes. 'At least it can't be a put-up job, as w_xpected.'
'Then it hasn't been properly gone about,' said the Jew, turning pale wit_nger. 'Don't tell me!'
'But I will tell you,' retorted Sikes. 'Who are you that's not to be told? _ell you that Toby Crackit has been hanging about the place for a fortnight, and he can't get one of the servants in line.'
'Do you mean to tell me, Bill,' said the Jew: softening as the other gre_eated: 'that neither of the two men in the house can be got over?'
'Yes, I do mean to tell you so,' replied Sikes. 'The old lady has had 'e_hese twenty years; and if you were to give 'em five hundred pound, the_ouldn't be in it.'
'But do you mean to say, my dear,' remonstrated the Jew, 'that the women can'_e got over?'
'Not a bit of it,' replied Sikes.
'Not by flash Toby Crackit?' said the Jew incredulously. 'Think what wome_re, Bill,'
'No; not even by flash Toby Crackit,' replied Sikes. 'He says he's worn sha_hiskers, and a canary waistcoat, the whole blessed time he's been loiterin_own there, and it's all of no use.'
'He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers, my dear,'
said the Jew.
'So he did,' rejoined Sikes, 'and they warn't of no more use than the othe_lant.'
The Jew looked blank at this information. After ruminating for some minute_ith his chin sunk on his breast, he raised his head and said, with a dee_igh, that if flash Toby Crackit reported aright, he feared the game was up.
'And yet,' said the old man, dropping his hands on his knees, 'it's a sa_hing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set our hearts upon it.'
'So it is,' said Mr. Sikes. 'Worse luck!'
A long silence ensued; during which the Jew was plunged in deep thought, wit_is face wrinkled into an expression of villainy perfectly demoniacal. Sike_yed him furtively from time to time. Nancy, apparently fearful of irritatin_he housebreaker, sat with her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had bee_eaf to all that passed.
'Fagin,' said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness that prevailed; 'is i_orth fifty shiners extra, if it's safely done from the outside?'
'Yes,' said the Jew, as suddenly rousing himself.
'Is it a bargain?' inquired Sikes.
'Yes, my dear, yes,' rejoined the Jew; his eyes glistening, and every muscl_n his face working, with the excitement that the inquiry had awakened.
'Then,' said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew's hand, with some disdain, 'let i_ome off as soon as you like. Toby and me were over the garden-wall the nigh_fore last, sounding the panels of the door and shutters. The crib's barred u_t night like a jail; but there's one part we can crack, safe and softly.'
'Which is that, Bill?' asked the Jew eagerly.
'Why,' whispered Sikes, 'as you cross the lawn—'
'Yes?' said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyes almost startin_ut of it.
'Umph!' cried Sikes, stopping short, as the girl, scarcely moving her head, looked suddenly round, and pointed for an instant to the Jew's face. 'Neve_ind which part it is. You can't do it without me, I know; but it's best to b_n the safe side when one deals with you.'
'As you like, my dear, as you like' replied the Jew. 'Is there no help wanted, but yours and Toby's?'
'None,' said Sikes. 'Cept a centre-bit and a boy. The first we've both got; the second you must find us.'
'A boy!' exclaimed the Jew. 'Oh! then it's a panel, eh?'
'Never mind wot it is!' replied Sikes. 'I want a boy, and he musn't be a big
'un. Lord!' said Mr. Sikes, reflectively, 'if I'd only got that young boy o_ed, the chimbley-sweeper's! He kept him small on purpose, and let him out b_he job. But the father gets lagged; and then the Juvenile Delinquent Societ_omes, and takes the boy away from a trade where he was earning money, teache_im to read and write, and in time makes a 'prentice of him. And so they g_n,' said Mr. Sikes, his wrath rising with the recollection of his wrongs, 's_hey go on; and, if they'd got money enough (which it's a Providence the_aven't,) we shouldn't have half a dozen boys left in the whole trade, in _ear or two.'
'No more we should,' acquiesced the Jew, who had been considering during thi_peech, and had only caught the last sentence. 'Bill!'
'What now?' inquired Sikes.
The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing at the fire; an_ntimated, by a sign, that he would have her told to leave the room. Sike_hrugged his shoulders impatiently, as if he thought the precautio_nnecessary; but complied, nevertheless, by requesting Miss Nancy to fetch hi_ jug of beer.
'You don't want any beer,' said Nancy, folding her arms, and retaining he_eat very composedly.
'I tell you I do!' replied Sikes.
'Nonsense,' rejoined the girl coolly, 'Go on, Fagin. I know what he's going t_ay, Bill; he needn't mind me.'
The Jew still hesitated. Sikes looked from one to the other in some surprise.
'Why, you don't mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?' he asked at length. 'You'v_nown her long enough to trust her, or the Devil's in it. She ain't one t_lab. Are you Nancy?'
'_I_ should think not!' replied the young lady: drawing her chair up to th_able, and putting her elbows upon it.
'No, no, my dear, I know you're not,' said the Jew; 'but—' and again the ol_an paused.
'But wot?' inquired Sikes.
'I didn't know whether she mightn't p'r'aps be out of sorts, you know, m_ear, as she was the other night,' replied the Jew.
At this confession, Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh; and, swallowing _lass of brandy, shook her head with an air of defiance, and burst into sundr_xclamations of 'Keep the game a-going!' 'Never say die!' and the like. Thes_eemed to have the effect of re-assuring both gentlemen; for the Jew nodde_is head with a satisfied air, and resumed his seat: as did Mr. Sike_ikewise.
'Now, Fagin,' said Nancy with a laugh. 'Tell Bill at once, about Oliver!'
'Ha! you're a clever one, my dear: the sharpest girl I ever saw!' said th_ew, patting her on the neck. 'It WAS about Oliver I was going to speak, sur_nough. Ha! ha! ha!'
'What about him?' demanded Sikes.
'He's the boy for you, my dear,' replied the Jew in a hoarse whisper; layin_is finger on the side of his nose, and grinning frightfully.
'He!' exclaimed. Sikes.
'Have him, Bill!' said Nancy. 'I would, if I was in your place. He mayn't b_o much up, as any of the others; but that's not what you want, if he's onl_o open a door for you. Depend upon it he's a safe one, Bill.'
'I know he is,' rejoined Fagin. 'He's been in good training these last fe_eeks, and it's time he began to work for his bread. Besides, the others ar_ll too big.'
'Well, he is just the size I want,' said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.
'And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear,' interposed the Jew; 'h_an't help himself. That is, if you frighten him enough.'
'Frighten him!' echoed Sikes. 'It'll be no sham frightening, mind you. I_here's anything queer about him when we once get into the work; in for _enny, in for a pound. You won't see him alive again, Fagin. Think of that, before you send him. Mark my words!' said the robber, poising a crowbar, whic_e had drawn from under the bedstead.
'I've thought of it all,' said the Jew with energy. 'I've—I've had my eye upo_im, my dears, close—close. Once let him feel that he is one of us; once fil_is mind with the idea that he has been a thief; and he's ours! Ours for hi_ife. Oho! It couldn't have come about better! The old man crossed his arm_pon his breast; and, drawing his head and shoulders into a heap, literall_ugged himself for joy.
'Ours!' said Sikes. 'Yours, you mean.'
'Perhaps I do, my dear,' said the Jew, with a shrill chuckle. 'Mine, if yo_ike, Bill.'
'And wot,' said Sikes, scowling fiercely on his agreeable friend, 'wot make_ou take so much pains about one chalk-faced kid, when you know there ar_ifty boys snoozing about Common Garden every night, as you might pick an_hoose from?'
'Because they're of no use to me, my dear,' replied the Jew, with som_onfusion, 'not worth the taking. Their looks convict 'em when they get int_rouble, and I lose 'em all. With this boy, properly managed, my dears, _ould do what I couldn't with twenty of them. Besides,' said the Jew, recovering his self-possession, 'he has us now if he could only give us leg- bail again; and he must be in the same boat with us. Never mind how he cam_here; it's quite enough for my power over him that he was in a robbery; that's all I want. Now, how much better this is, than being obliged to put th_oor leetle boy out of the way—which would be dangerous, and we should lose b_t besides.'
'When is it to be done?' asked Nancy, stopping some turbulent exclamation o_he part of Mr. Sikes, expressive of the disgust with which he receive_agin's affectation of humanity.
'Ah, to be sure,' said the Jew; 'when is it to be done, Bill?'
'I planned with Toby, the night arter to-morrow,' rejoined Sikes in a surl_oice, 'if he heerd nothing from me to the contrairy.'
'Good,' said the Jew; 'there's no moon.'
'No,' rejoined Sikes.
'It's all arranged about bringing off the swag, is it?' asked the Jew.
'Oh, ah, it's all planned,' rejoined Sikes, interrupting him. 'Never min_articulars. You'd better bring the boy here to-morrow night. I shall get of_he stone an hour arter daybreak. Then you hold your tongue, and keep th_elting-pot ready, and that's all you'll have to do.'
After some discussion, in which all three took an active part, it was decide_hat Nancy should repair to the Jew's next evening when the night had set in, and bring Oliver away with her; Fagin craftily observing, that, if he evince_ny disinclination to the task, he would be more willing to accompany the gir_ho had so recently interfered in his behalf, than anybody else. It was als_olemnly arranged that poor Oliver should, for the purposes of th_ontemplated expedition, be unreservedly consigned to the care and custody o_r. William Sikes; and further, that the said Sikes should deal with him as h_hought fit; and should not be held responsible by the Jew for any mischanc_r evil that might be necessary to visit him: it being understood that, t_ender the compact in this respect binding, any representations made by Mr.
Sikes on his return should be required to be confirmed and corroborated, i_ll important particulars, by the testimony of flash Toby Crackit.
These preliminaries adjusted, Mr. Sikes proceeded to drink brandy at a furiou_ate, and to flourish the crowbar in an alarming manner; yelling forth, at th_ame time, most unmusical snatches of song, mingled with wild execrations. A_ength, in a fit of professional enthusiasm, he insisted upon producing hi_ox of housebreaking tools: which he had no sooner stumbled in with, an_pened for the purpose of explaining the nature and properties of the variou_mplements it contained, and the peculiar beauties of their construction, tha_e fell over the box upon the floor, and went to sleep where he fell.
'Good-night, Nancy,' said the Jew, muffling himself up as before.
Their eyes met, and the Jew scrutinised her, narrowly. There was no flinchin_bout the girl. She was as true and earnest in the matter as Toby Cracki_imself could be.
The Jew again bade her good-night, and, bestowing a sly kick upon th_rostrate form of Mr. Sikes while her back was turned, groped downstairs.
'Always the way!' muttered the Jew to himself as he turned homeward. 'Th_orst of these women is, that a very little thing serves to call up some long- forgotten feeling; and, the best of them is, that it never lasts. Ha! ha! Th_an against the child, for a bag of gold!'
Beguiling the time with these pleasant reflections, Mr. Fagin wended his way, through mud and mire, to his gloomy abode: where the Dodger was sitting up, impatiently awaiting his return.
'Is Oliver a-bed? I want to speak to him,' was his first remark as the_escended the stairs.
'Hours ago,' replied the Dodger, throwing open a door. 'Here he is!'
The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor; so pale wit_nxiety, and sadness, and the closeness of his prison, that he looked lik_eath; not death as it shows in shroud and coffin, but in the guise it wear_hen life has just departed; when a young and gentle spirit has, but a_nstant, fled to Heaven, and the gross air of the world has not had time t_reathe upon the changing dust it hallowed.
'Not now,' said the Jew, turning softly away. 'To-morrow. To-morrow.'