When Oliver awoke in the morning, he was a good deal surprised to find that _ew pair of shoes, with strong thick soles, had been placed at his bedside; and that his old shoes had been removed. At first, he was pleased with th_iscovery: hoping that it might be the forerunner of his release; but suc_houghts were quickly dispelled, on his sitting down to breakfast along wit_he Jew, who told him, in a tone and manner which increased his alarm, that h_as to be taken to the residence of Bill Sikes that night.
'To—to—stop there, sir?' asked Oliver, anxiously.
'No, no, my dear. Not to stop there,' replied the Jew. 'We shouldn't like t_ose you. Don't be afraid, Oliver, you shall come back to us again. Ha! ha!
ha! We won't be so cruel as to send you away, my dear. Oh no, no!'
The old man, who was stooping over the fire toasting a piece of bread, looke_ound as he bantered Oliver thus; and chuckled as if to show that he knew h_ould still be very glad to get away if he could.
'I suppose,' said the Jew, fixing his eyes on Oliver, 'you want to know wha_ou're going to Bill's for—eh, my dear?'
Oliver coloured, involuntarily, to find that the old thief had been readin_is thoughts; but boldly said, Yes, he did want to know.
'Why, do you think?' inquired Fagin, parrying the question.
'Indeed I don't know, sir,' replied Oliver.
'Bah!' said the Jew, turning away with a disappointed countenance from a clos_erusal of the boy's face. 'Wait till Bill tells you, then.'
The Jew seemed much vexed by Oliver's not expressing any greater curiosity o_he subject; but the truth is, that, although Oliver felt very anxious, he wa_oo much confused by the earnest cunning of Fagin's looks, and his ow_peculations, to make any further inquiries just then. He had no othe_pportunity: for the Jew remained very surly and silent till night: when h_repared to go abroad.
'You may burn a candle,' said the Jew, putting one upon the table. 'And here'_ book for you to read, till they come to fetch you. Good-night!'
'Good-night!' replied Oliver, softly.
The Jew walked to the door: looking over his shoulder at the boy as he went.
Suddenly stopping, he called him by his name.
Oliver looked up; the Jew, pointing to the candle, motioned him to light it.
He did so; and, as he placed the candlestick upon the table, saw that the Je_as gazing fixedly at him, with lowering and contracted brows, from the dar_nd of the room.
'Take heed, Oliver! take heed!' said the old man, shaking his right han_efore him in a warning manner. 'He's a rough man, and thinks nothing of bloo_hen his own is up. Whatever falls out, say nothing; and do what he bids you.
Mind!' Placing a strong emphasis on the last word, he suffered his feature_radually to resolve themselves into a ghastly grin, and, nodding his head, left the room.
Oliver leaned his head upon his hand when the old man disappeared, an_ondered, with a trembling heart, on the words he had just heard. The more h_hought of the Jew's admonition, the more he was at a loss to divine its rea_urpose and meaning.
He could think of no bad object to be attained by sending him to Sikes, whic_ould not be equally well answered by his remaining with Fagin; and afte_editating for a long time, concluded that he had been selected to perfor_ome ordinary menial offices for the housebreaker, until another boy, bette_uited for his purpose could be engaged. He was too well accustomed t_uffering, and had suffered too much where he was, to bewail the prospect o_hange very severely. He remained lost in thought for some minutes; and then, with a heavy sigh, snuffed the candle, and, taking up the book which the Je_ad left with him, began to read.
He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on a passag_hich attracted his attention, he soon became intent upon the volume. It was _istory of the lives and trials of great criminals; and the pages were soile_nd thumbed with use. Here, he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood ru_old; of secret murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; o_odies hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which would not kee_hem down, deep as they were, but had yielded them up at last, after man_ears, and so maddened the murderers with the sight, that in their horror the_ad confessed their guilt, and yelled for the gibbet to end their agony. Here, too, he read of men who, lying in their beds at dead of night, had bee_empted (so they said) and led on, by their own bad thoughts, to such dreadfu_loodshed as it made the flesh creep, and the limbs quail, to think of. Th_errible descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed t_urn red with gore; and the words upon them, to be sounded in his ears, as i_hey were whispered, in hollow murmurs, by the spirits of the dead.
In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it from him. Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to spare him from such deeds; an_ather to will that he should die at once, than be reserved for crimes, s_earful and appalling. By degrees, he grew more calm, and besought, in a lo_nd broken voice, that he might be rescued from his present dangers; and tha_f any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who had never known th_ove of friends or kindred, it might come to him now, when, desolate an_eserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt.
He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head buried in hi_ands, when a rustling noise aroused him.
'What's that!' he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a figure standin_y the door. 'Who's there?'
'Me. Only me,' replied a tremulous voice.
Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the door. It wa_ancy.
'Put down the light,' said the girl, turning away her head. 'It hurts m_yes.'
Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she were ill. Th_irl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him: and wrung he_ands; but made no reply.
'God forgive me!' she cried after a while, 'I never thought of this.'
'Has anything happened?' asked Oliver. 'Can I help you? I will if I can. _ill, indeed.'
She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a gurglin_ound, gasped for breath.
'Nancy!' cried Oliver, 'What is it?'
The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the ground; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her: and shivered with cold.
Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat there, for _ittle time, without speaking; but at length she raised her head, and looke_ound.
'I don't know what comes over me sometimes,' said she, affecting to bus_erself in arranging her dress; 'it's this damp dirty room, I think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?'
'Am I to go with you?' asked Oliver.
'Yes. I have come from Bill,' replied the girl. 'You are to go with me.'
'What for?' asked Oliver, recoiling.
'What for?' echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them again, th_oment they encountered the boy's face. 'Oh! For no harm.'
'I don't believe it,' said Oliver: who had watched her closely.
'Have it your own way,' rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh. 'For no good, then.'
Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl's better feelings, and, for an instant, thought of appealing to her compassion for his helpless state.
But, then, the thought darted across his mind that it was barely eleve_'clock; and that many people were still in the streets: of whom surely som_ight be found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured to him, he stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was ready.
Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his companion.
She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon him a look o_ntelligence which sufficiently showed that she guessed what had been passin_n his thoughts.
'Hush!' said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the door as sh_ooked cautiously round. 'You can't help yourself. I have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round and round. If ever you are to ge_oose from here, this is not the time.'
Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face with grea_urprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her countenance was white an_gitated; and she trembled with very earnestness.
'I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and I do now,'
continued the girl aloud; 'for those who would have fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have promised for your being quie_nd silent; if you are not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too, an_erhaps be my death. See here! I have borne all this for you already, as tru_s God sees me show it.'
She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms; an_ontinued, with great rapidity:
'Remember this! And don't let me suffer more for you, just now. If I coul_elp you, I would; but I have not the power. They don't mean to harm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of yours. Hush! Every word from you i_ blow for me. Give me your hand. Make haste! Your hand!'
She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers, and, blowin_ut the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The door was opened, quickly, by some one shrouded in the darkness, and was as quickly closed, when they ha_assed out. A hackney-cabriolet was in waiting; with the same vehemence whic_he had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in with her, an_rew the curtains close. The driver wanted no directions, but lashed his hors_nto full speed, without the delay of an instant.
The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to pour into hi_ar, the warnings and assurances she had already imparted. All was so quic_nd hurried, that he had scarcely time to recollect where he was, or how h_ame there, when the carriage stopped at the house to which the Jew's step_ad been directed on the previous evening.
For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the empty street, an_ cry for help hung upon his lips. But the girl's voice was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of agony to remember her, that he had not th_eart to utter it. While he hesitated, the opportunity was gone; he wa_lready in the house, and the door was shut.
'This way,' said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time. 'Bill!'
'Hallo!' replied Sikes: appearing at the head of the stairs, with a candle.
'Oh! That's the time of day. Come on!'
This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly heart_elcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes' temperament. Nancy, appearing muc_ratified thereby, saluted him cordially.
'Bull's-eye's gone home with Tom,' observed Sikes, as he lighted them up.
'He'd have been in the way.'
'That's right,' rejoined Nancy.
'So you've got the kid,' said Sikes when they had all reached the room: closing the door as he spoke.
'Yes, here he is,' replied Nancy.
'Did he come quiet?' inquired Sikes.
'Like a lamb,' rejoined Nancy.
'I'm glad to hear it,' said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver; 'for the sake o_is young carcase: as would otherways have suffered for it. Come here, young
'un; and let me read you a lectur', which is as well got over at once.'
Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver's cap and threw i_nto a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat himself down by th_able, and stood the boy in front of him.
'Now, first: do you know wot this is?' inquired Sikes, taking up a pocket- pistol which lay on the table.
Oliver replied in the affirmative.
'Well, then, look here,' continued Sikes. 'This is powder; that 'ere's _ullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for waddin'.'
Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies referred to; and Mr.
Sikes proceeded to load the pistol, with great nicety and deliberation.
'Now it's loaded,' said Mr. Sikes, when he had finished.
'Yes, I see it is, sir,' replied Oliver.
'Well,' said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist, and putting the barrel s_lose to his temple that they touched; at which moment the boy could no_epress a start; 'if you speak a word when you're out o'doors with me, excep_hen I speak to you, that loading will be in your head without notice. So, i_ou _do_ make up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first.'
Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to increase it_ffect, Mr. Sikes continued.
'As near as I know, there isn't anybody as would be asking very partickle_rter you, if you _was_ disposed of; so I needn't take this devil-and-all o_rouble to explain matters to you, if it warn't for your own good. D'ye hea_e?'
'The short and the long of what you mean,' said Nancy: speaking ver_mphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to bespeak his seriou_ttention to her words: 'is, that if you're crossed by him in this job yo_ave on hand, you'll prevent his ever telling tales afterwards, by shootin_im through the head, and will take your chance of swinging for it, as you d_or a great many other things in the way of business, every month of you_ife.'
'That's it!' observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; 'women can always put things i_ewest words.—Except when it's blowing up; and then they lengthens it out. An_ow that he's thoroughly up to it, let's have some supper, and get a snooz_efore starting.'
In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth; disappearing for _ew minutes, she presently returned with a pot of porter and a dish of sheep'_eads: which gave occasion to several pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr.
Sikes, founded upon the singular coincidence of 'jemmies' being a can name, common to them, and also to an ingenious implement much used in hi_rofession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps by the immediat_rospect of being on active service, was in great spirits and good humour; i_roof whereof, it may be here remarked, that he humourously drank all the bee_t a draught, and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than four-scor_aths during the whole progress of the meal.
Supper being ended—it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no grea_ppetite for it—Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses of spirits an_ater, and threw himself on the bed; ordering Nancy, with many imprecations i_ase of failure, to call him at five precisely. Oliver stretched himself i_is clothes, by command of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; and the girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse them a_he appointed time.
For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that Nancy migh_eek that opportunity of whispering some further advice; but the girl sa_rooding over the fire, without moving, save now and then to trim the light.
Weary with watching and anxiety, he at length fell asleep.
When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikes was thrustin_arious articles into the pockets of his great-coat, which hung over the bac_f a chair. Nancy was busily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not ye_aylight; for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside. _harp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes; and the sky looke_lack and cloudy.
'Now, then!' growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; 'half-past five! Look sharp, or you'll get no breakfast; for it's late as it is.'
Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken some breakfast, h_eplied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by saying that he was quite ready.
Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief to tie round hi_hroat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button over his shoulders. Thu_ttired, he gave his hand to the robber, who, merely pausing to show him wit_ menacing gesture that he had that same pistol in a side-pocket of his great- coat, clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy, led hi_way.
Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in the hope o_eeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed her old seat in front of th_ire, and sat, perfectly motionless before it.