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some very loose notions concerning the rights of property, by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls at the kennel sides, and thrusting them into pockets which were so surprisingly capacious, that they seemed to undermine his whole suit of clothes in every direction. These things looked so bad, that Oliver was on the point of declaring his intention of seeking his way back in the best way he could, when his thoughts were suddenly directed into another channel by a very mysterious change of behaviour on the part of the Dodger.
They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the open square in Clerkenwell
, which is called by some strange perversion of terms, “ The Green," when the Dodger made a sudden stop, and, laying his fingers on his lip, drew his companions back again with the greatest caution and circumspection.
" What's the matter ?'' demanded Oliver.
" Hush !" replied the Dodger. “ Do you see that old cove at the book-stall ?"
" The old gentleman over the way ?" said Oliver. “Yes, I see him.”
" He'll do," said the Dodger.
Oliver looked from one to the other with the greatest surprise, but was not permitted to make any inquiries, for the two boys walked stealthily across the road, and slunk close behind the old gentleman towards whom his attention had been directed. Oliver walked a few paces after them, and, not knowing whether to advance or retire, stood looking on in silent amazement.
The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles; dressed in a bottle.green coat with a black velvet collar, and white trowsers; with a smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading away as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair in his own study. It was very possible that he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his utter abstraction, that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor the boys, nor, in short, any thing but the book itself, which he was reading straight through, turning over the leaves when he got to the bottom of a page, beginning at the topline of the next one, and going regularly on with the greatest interest and eagerness.
What was Oliver's horror and alarm, as he stood a few paces off, looking on, with his eye-lids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into this old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief, which he handed to Charley Bates, and with which they both ran away round the corner at full speed!
In one instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy's mind — He stood for a moment, with the blood tingling so through all his veins, from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels, and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground.
This was all done in a minute's space: and the very instant that Oliver began to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the boy
scudding away at such a rapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the depredator; and shouting "Stop thief! with all his might, made cff after him, book in hand.
But the old gentleman was not the only person who raised the hue and cry. The Dodger and Master Bates, unwilling to attract public attention by running down the open street, had merely retired into the very first doorway round the corner. They no sooner heard the cry, and saw Oliver running, than, guessing exactly how the matter stood, they issued forth with great promptitude, and, shouting "Stop thief!" too, joined in the pursuit like good citizens.
Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with their beautiful axiom, ihat self-preservation is the first law of nature. If he had been, perhaps he would have been prepared for this. Not being prepared, however, it alarmed him the more; so away he went like the wind, with the old gentleman and the two boys roaring and shouting behind him.
“Stop thief! stop thief!" There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman leaves his counter, and the carman his wagon; the butcher throws down his tray, the baker his basket, the milkman his pail, the errand-boy his parcels, the schoolboy his marbles, the paviour his pickaxe, the child his battledore: away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash, tearing, yelling, and screaming, knocking down the passen gers as they turn the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls; and streets, squares, and courts re-echo with the sound.
Stop thief! stop thief!” The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through the mud, and rattling along the pavements; up go the windows, out run the people, onward bear the mob; a whole audience desert Punch in the very thickest of the plot, and joining the rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry, “Stop thief!
Stop thief! stop thief!” There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched, breathless child, panting with exhaustion, terror in his looks, agony in his eye, large drops of perspiration streaming down his face, strains every nerve to make head upon his pursuers; and as they follow on his track, and gain upon him every instant, they hail his decreasing strength with still louder shouts, and whoop and scream with joy," Stop thief!"-Ay, stop him for God's sake, were it only in mercy!
Stopped at last. A clever blow that. He's down upon the pavement, and the crowd eagerly, gather round him; each new comer jostling and struggling with the others to catch a glimpse. “Stand aside! __"Give him a little air !"_" Nonsense! he don't deserve it.” " Where's the gentleman ?"_" Here hiç is, coming down the street." -“ Make room there for the gentleman !"_" Is this the boy, sir ?”
Oliver lay covered with mud and dust, and bleeding from the mouth, looking wildly round upon the heap of faces that surrounded him, when the old gentleman was officiously dragged and pushed into the circle by the foremost of the pursuers, und made this reply to their anxious inquiries.
“Yes," said the gentleman, in a benevolent voice, “I am afraid it is."
" Afraid !" murmured the crowd. "That's a good un!"
"Poor fellow!" said the gentleman, “ he has hurt himself.”
“ I did that,” said a great lubberly fellow, stepping forward; “ and preciously I cut my knuckle agin' his mouth. I stopped him, sir.”
The fellow touched his hat with a grin, expecting something for his pains; but the old gentleman, eyeing him with an expression of disgust, looked anxiously round, as if he contemplated running away himself; which it is very possible he might have attempted to do, and thus afforded another chase, had not a police officer, (who is always the last person to arrive in such cases,) at that moment made bis way through the crowd, and seized Oliver by the collar. “Come, get up,
· said the man roughly.
“ It wasn't me, indeed, sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two other boys," said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking round : "they are here somewhere."
"Oh no, they ain't,” said the officer. He meant this to be ironical ; but it was true besides, for the Dodger and Charley Bates had filed off down the first convenient court they came to. "Come, get up."
“Don't hurt him," said the old gentleman compassionately.
" Oh no, I won't hurt him," replied the officer, tearing his jacket half off his back in proof thereof. • Come, I know you; it won't do. Will you stand upon your legs, you young devil !”
Oliver, who could hardly stand, made a shift to raise himself upon his feet, and was at ouce lugged along the streets by the jacket-collar at a rapid pace. The gentleman walked on with them by the officer's side; and as many of the crowd as could, got a litle a-head, and stared back at Oliver from time to time. The boys shouted in triumph, and on they went.
CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH
TREATS OF MR. FANG, THE POLICE MAGISTRATE, AND FURNISHES A SLIGHT SPECI
MEN OF HIS MODE OF ADMINISTERING JUSTICE.
The offence had been committed within the district, and indeed in the immediate neighbourhood of a very notorious metropolitan police office. The crowd had only the satisfaction of accompanying Oliver through two or three streets, and down a place called Mutton-hill, when he was led beneath a low archway and up a dirty court into this dispensary of summary justice, by the back way. It was a small paved yard into which they turned; and here they encountered a stout man with a bunch of whiskers on his face and a bunch of keys in his hand.
What's the matter now ?” said the man carelessly. “A young fogle-hunter,” replied the man who had Oliver in charge. "Are you the party that's been robbed, sir ?" inquired the man with
' the keys.
“Yes, I am,” replied the old gentleman; “but I am not sure that this boy actually took the handkerchief. 1-I'd rather not press the
“ Must go before the magistrate now, sir,” replied the man." His worship will be disengaged in half a minute. Now, young gallows !"
This was an invitation for Oliver to enter through a door which he unlocked as he spoke, and which led into a small stone cell. Here he was searched, and nothing being found upon him, locked up.
This cell was, in shape and size, something like an area cellar, only not so light. It was most intolerably dirty, for it was Monday morning, and it had been tenanted, since Saturday night, by six drunken people. But this is nothing. In our station-houses, men and women are every night confined on the most trivial charges--the word is worth noting-in dungeons, compared with which those in Newgate, occupied by the most atrocious felons, tried, found guilty, and under sentence of death, are palaces! Let any man who doubts this compare the two.
The old gentleman looked almost as rueful as Oliver, when the key grated in the lock; and turned with a sigh to the book which had been the innocent cause of all this disturbance.
"There is something in that boy's face," said the old gentleman to himself, as he walked slowly away, tapping his chin with the cover of the book in a thoughtful manner; "something that touches and interests me. Can he be innocent? He looked like - By the bye."
, exclaimed the old gentleman, halting very abruptly, and staring up into the sky, “ God bless my soul! where have I seen something like that look before ?""
After musing for some minutes, the old gentleman walked with the same meditative face into a back ante-room opening from the yard; and there, retiring into a corner, called up before his mind's eye a vast amphitheatre of faces, over which a dusky curtain had hung for many years. "No," said the old gentleman, shaking his head, “it must be imagination."
He wandered over them again. He had called them into viewv, and it was not easy to replace the shroud that had so long concealed them. There were the faces of friends and foes, and of many that had been almost strangers, peering intrusively from the crowd; there were the faces of young and blooming girls that were now old women: there were others that the grave had changed to ghastly trophies of death, but which the mind, superior to his power, still dressed in their old freshness and beauty, calling back the lustre of the eyes, the brightness of the smile, the beaming of the soul through its mask of clay, and whispering of beauty beyond the tomb, changed but to be heightened; and taken from earth only to be set up as a light to shed a soft and gentle glow upon the path to Heaven.
But the old gentleman could recall no one countenance of which Oliver's features bore a trace; so he heaved a sigh over the recollections he had awakened; and being, happily for himself, an absent old gentleman, buried them again in the pages of the musty book.
He was roused by a touch on the shoulder, and a request from the man with the keys to follow him into the office. He closed his book hastily, and was at once ushered into the imposing presence of the renowned Mr. Fang.
The office was a front parlour, with a pannelled wall. Mr. Fang sat behind a bar at the upper end; and on one side the door was a sort of wooden pen, in which poor little Oliver was already deposited, trembling very inuch at the awfulness of the scene.
Mr. Fang was a middle-sized man, with no great quantity of hair; and what he had, growing on the back and sides of his head. His face was stern and much flushed.
If he were really not in the habit of drinking more than was exactly good for him, he might have