While these things were passing in the country workhouse, Mr. Fagin sat in th_ld den—the same from which Oliver had been removed by the girl—brooding ove_ dull, smoky fire. He held a pair of bellows upon his knee, with which he ha_pparently been endeavouring to rouse it into more cheerful action; but he ha_allen into deep thought; and with his arms folded on them, and his chi_esting 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 agains_aster Bates and Mr. Chitling. The countenance of the first-named gentleman, peculiarly intelligent at all times, acquired great additional interest fro_is close observance of the game, and his attentive perusal of Mr. Chitling'_and; upon which, from time to time, as occasion served, he bestowed a variet_f earnest glances: wisely regulating his own play by the result of hi_bservations upon his neighbour's cards. It being a cold night, the Dodge_ore his hat, as, indeed, was often his custom within doors. He also sustaine_ clay pipe between his teeth, which he only removed for a brief space when h_eemed 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 th_ompany.
Master Bates was also attentive to the play; but being of a more excitabl_ature than his accomplished friend, it was observable that he more frequentl_pplied himself to the gin-and-water, and moreover indulged in many jests an_rrelevant remarks, all highly unbecoming a scientific rubber. Indeed, th_rtful, presuming upon their close attachment, more than once took occasion t_eason gravely with his companion upon these improprieties; all of whic_emonstrances, Master Bates received in extremely good part; merely requestin_is friend to be 'blowed,' or to insert his head in a sack, or replying wit_ome other neatly-turned witticism of a similar kind, the happy application o_hich, excited considerable admiration in the mind of Mr. Chitling. It wa_emarkable that the latter gentleman and his partner invariably lost; and tha_he circumstance, so far from angering Master Bates, appeared to afford hi_he highest amusement, inasmuch as he laughed most uproariously at the end o_very deal, and protested that he had never seen such a jolly game in all hi_orn days.
'That's two doubles and the rub,' said Mr. Chitling, with a very long face, a_e drew half-a-crown from his waistcoat-pocket. 'I never see such a feller a_ou, Jack; you win everything. Even when we've good cards, Charley and I can'_ake 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 rouse_he Jew from his reverie, and induced him to inquire what was the matter.
'Matter, Fagin!' cried Charley. 'I wish you had watched the play. Tomm_hitling hasn't won a point; and I went partners with him against the Artful_nd dumb.'
'Ay, ay!' said the Jew, with a grin, which sufficiently demonstrated that h_as 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 ha_nough. That 'ere Dodger has such a run of luck that there's no standin_gain' him.'
'Ha! ha! my dear,' replied the Jew, 'you must get up very early in th_orning, to win against the Dodger.'
'Morning!' said Charley Bates; 'you must put your boots on over-night, an_ave a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass between your shoulders, if yo_ant to come over him.'
Mr. Dawkins received these handsome compliments with much philosophy, an_ffered to cut any gentleman in company, for the first picture-card, at _hilling at a time. Nobody accepting the challenge, and his pipe being by thi_ime smoked out, he proceeded to amuse himself by sketching a ground-plan o_ewgate on the table with the piece of chalk which had served him in lieu o_ounters; whistling, meantime, with peculiar shrillness.
'How precious dull you are, Tommy!' said the Dodger, stopping short when ther_ad been a long silence; and addressing Mr. Chitling. 'What do you think he'_hinking of, Fagin?'
'How should I know, my dear?' replied the Jew, looking round as he plied th_ellows. 'About his losses, maybe; or the little retirement in the countr_hat 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 a_r. Chitling was about to reply. 'What do _you_ say, Charley?'
'_I_ should say,' replied Master Bates, with a grin, 'that he was uncommo_weet 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 th_ender passion, Master Bates threw himself back in his chair with suc_iolence, that he lost his balance, and pitched over upon the floor; where (the accident abating nothing of his merriment) he lay at full length unti_is laugh was over, when he resumed his former position, and began anothe_augh.
'Never mind him, my dear,' said the Jew, winking at Mr. Dawkins, and givin_aster Bates a reproving tap with the nozzle of the bellows. 'Betsy's a fin_irl. 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 wil_ake your fortune.'
'So I _do_ do as she bids me,' replied Mr. Chitling; 'I shouldn't have bee_illed, if it hadn't been for her advice. But it turned out a good job fo_ou; didn't it, Fagin! And what's six weeks of it? It must come, some time o_nother, and why not in the winter time when you don't want to go ou_-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 upo_harley 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 'e_hat 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 upo_uestion with great volubility.
'No, no, to be sure,' replied the Jew; 'you were too stout-hearted for that. _eal too stout, my dear!'
'Perhaps I was,' rejoined Tom, looking round; 'and if I was, what's to laug_t, in that; eh, Fagin?'
The Jew, perceiving that Mr. Chitling was considerably roused, hastened t_ssure 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, wa_nable to prevent the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr.
Chitling, without any preliminary ceremonies, rushed across the room and aime_ blow at the offender; who, being skilful in evading pursuit, ducked to avoi_t, and chose his time so well that it lighted on the chest of the merry ol_entleman, and caused him to stagger to the wall, where he stood panting fo_reath, while Mr. Chitling looked on in intense dismay.
'Hark!' cried the Dodger at this moment, 'I heard the tinkler.' Catching u_he light, he crept softly upstairs.
The bell was rung again, with some impatience, while the party were i_arkness. After a short pause, the Dodger reappeared, and whispered Fagi_ysteriously.
'What!' cried the Jew, 'alone?'
The Dodger nodded in the affirmative, and, shading the flame of the candl_ith his hand, gave Charley Bates a private intimation, in dumb show, that h_ad better not be funny just then. Having performed this friendly office, h_ixed his eyes on the Jew's face, and awaited his directions.
The old man bit his yellow fingers, and meditated for some seconds; his fac_orking with agitation the while, as if he dreaded something, and feared t_now 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 th_oom.
'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 softl_nd immediately obeyed. There was no sound of their whereabout, when th_odger descended the stairs, bearing the light in his hand, and followed by _an in a coarse smock-frock; who, after casting a hurried glance round th_oom, pulled off a large wrapper which had concealed the lower portion of hi_ace, and disclosed: all haggard, unwashed, and unshorn: the features of flas_oby Crackit.
'How are you, Faguey?' said this worthy, nodding to the Jew. 'Pop that shaw_way 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 fil_ow.'
With these words he pulled up the smock-frock; and, winding it round hi_iddle, 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 _rop 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 abou_usiness till I've eat and drank; so produce the sustainance, and let's have _uiet fill-out for the first time these three days!'
The Jew motioned to the Dodger to place what eatables there were, upon th_able; and, seating himself opposite the housebreaker, waited his leisure.
To judge from appearances, Toby was by no means in a hurry to open th_onversation. At first, the Jew contented himself with patiently watching hi_ountenance, as if to gain from its expression some clue to the intelligenc_e brought; but in vain.
He looked tired and worn, but there was the same complacent repose upon hi_eatures 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 hi_outh; pacing up and down the room, meanwhile, in irrepressible excitement. I_as 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 declar_hat 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 the_iding? 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 pointin_o it. 'What more?'
'They fired and hit the boy. We cut over the fields at the back, with hi_etween us—straight as the crow flies—through hedge and ditch. They gav_hase. Damme! the whole country was awake, and the dogs upon us.'
'Bill had him on his back, and scudded like the wind. We stopped to take hi_etween us; his head hung down, and he was cold. They were close upon ou_eels; 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 kno_bout him.'
The Jew stopped to hear no more; but uttering a loud yell, and twining hi_ands in his hair, rushed from the room, and from the house.