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"You shall go, my dear," said the old gentleman. on a chair by my table. Fetch them down."
"The books are
Oliver, delighted to be of use, brought down the books under his arm in a great bustle, and waited, cap in hand, to hear what message he was to take.
"You are to say," said Mr. Brownlow, glancing steadily at Grimwig,-"you are to say that you have brought those books back, and that you have come to pay the four pound ten I owe him. This is a five-pound note, so you will have to bring me back ten shillings change." "I won't be ten minutes, sir," replied Oliver, eagerly; and, having buttoned up the bank-note in his jacket pocket, and placed the books carefully under his arm, he made a respectful bow, and left the room. Mrs. Bedwin followed him to the street door, giving him many directions about the nearest way, and the name of the bookseller, and the name of the street, all of which Oliver said he clearly understood; and, having superadded many injunctions to be sure and not take cold, the careful old lady at length permitted him to depart.
"Bless his sweet face!" said the old lady, looking after him. "I can't bear, somehow, to let him go out of my sight.
At this moment Oliver looked gaily round, and nodded before he turned the corner. The old lady smilingly returned his salutation, and, closing the door, went back to her own room.
"Let me see; he'll be back in twenty minutes, at the longest," said Mr. Brownlow, pulling out his watch, and placing it on the table. "It will be dark by that time."
"Oh! you really expect him to come back, do you?" inquired Mr. Grimwig.
"Don't you?" asked Mr. Brownlow, smiling.
The spirit of contradiction was strong in Mr. Grimwig's breast at the moment, and it was rendered stronger by his friend's confident smile. "No," he said, smiting the table with his fist, "I do not. The boy has got a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuable books under his arm, and a five pound note in his pocket; he'll join his old friends the thieves, and laugh at you. If ever that boy returns to this house, sir, I'll eat my head."
With these words, he drew his chair closer to the table, and there the two friends sat in silent expectation, with the watch between them. It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the importance we attach to our own judgments, and the pride with which we put forth our most rash and hasty conclusions, that, although Mr. Grimwig was not a badhearted man, and would have been unfeignedly sorry to see his respect. ed friend duped and deceived, he really did most earnestly and strongly hope at that moment that Oliver Twist might not come back. Of such contradictions is human nature made up!
It grew so dark that the figures on the dial were scarcely discernible; but there the two old gentlemen continued to sit in silence, with the watch between them.
CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH.
SHEWING HOW VERY FOND OF OLIVER TWIST, THE MERRY OLD JEW AND MISS NANCY WERE.
If it did not come strictly within the scope and bearing of my long. considered intentions and plans regarding this prose epic (for such I mean it to be,) to leave the two old gentlemen sitting with the watch between them after it grew too dark to see it, and both doubting Oli. ver's return, the one in triumph, and the other in sorrow, I might take occasion to entertain the reader with many wise reflections on the obvious impolicy of ever attempting to do good to our fellow-creatures where there is no hope of earthly reward; or rather on the strict policy of betraying some light degree of charity or sympathy in one particularly unpromising case, and then abandoning such weaknesses for ever. I am aware that, in advising even this slight dereliction from the paths of prudence and wordliness, I lay myself open to the censure of many excellent and respectable persons who have long walked therein; but I venture to contend, nevertheless, that the advantages of the proceeding are manifold and lasting. As thus: if the object selected should happen most unexpectedly to turn out well, and to thrive and amend upon the assistance you have afforded him, he will, in pure gratitude and fulness of heart, laud your goodness to the skies; your character will be thus established, and you will pass through the world as a most estimable person, who does a vast deal of good in secret, not onetwentieth part of which will ever see the light. If, on the contrary, his bad character become notorious, and his profligacy a by-word, you place yourself in the excellent position of having attempted to bestow relief most disinterestedly; of having become misanthropical in consequence of the treachery of its object; and of having made a rash and solemn vow (which no one regrets more than yourself,) never to help or relieve any man, woman, or child again, lest you should be similarly deceived. I know a great number of persons in both situations at this moment, and I can safely assert that they are the most generally respected and esteemed of any in the whole circle of my acquaintance.
But, as Mr. Brownlow was not one of these; as he obstinately persevered in doing good for its own sake, and the gratification of heart it yielded him; as no failure dispirited him, and no ingratitude in individual cases tempted him to wreak his vengeance on the whole human race, I shall not enter into any such digression in this place: and, if this be not a sufficient reason for this determination, I have a better, and, indeed, a wholly unanswerable one, already stated; which is, that it forms no part of my original intentions so to do.
In the obscure parlour of a low public house, situate in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill,-a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time, and where no ray of sun ever shone in the summer,-there sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half-boots, and stockings, whom, even by that dim light, no experienced agent of police would have hesitated for one instant to recognise as Mr. William Sikes. At his feet sat a white-coated, red-eyed dog, who occupied himself alternately in winking at his master with both eyes at the same time, and in licking a large,
fresh cut on one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result of some recent conflict.
"Keep quiet, you warmint! keep quiet!" said Mr. Sikes, suddenly breaking silence. Whether his meditations were so intense as to be disturbed by the dog's winking, or whether his feelings were so wrought upon by his reflections that they required all the relief derivable from kicking an unoffending animal to allay them, is matter for argument and consideration. Whatever was the cause, the effect was a kick and a curse bestowed upon the dog simultaneously.
Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon them by their masters; but Mr. Sike's dog, having faults of temper in common with his owner, and labouring perhaps, at this moment, under a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado, but at once fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots, and, having given it a good hearty shake, retired, growling, under a form: thereby just escaping the pewter measure which Mr. Sikes levelled at his head.
"You would, would you?" said Sikes, seizing the poker in one hand, and deliberately opening with the other a large clasp knife, which he drew from his pocket. "Come here, you born devil! Come here! D'ye hear?"
The dog no doubt heard, because Mr. Sikes spoke in the very harshest key of a very harsh voice: but, appearing to entertain some unaccountable objection to having his throat cut, he remained where he was, and growled more fiercely than before, at the same time grasping the end of the poker between his teeth, and biting at it like a wild beast.
This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; so, dropping upon his knees, he began to assail the animal most furiously. The dog jumped from right to left, and from left to right, snapping, growling, and barking; the man thrust and swore, and struck and blasphemed; and the struggle was reaching a most critical point for one or other, when, the door suddenly opening, the dog darted out, leaving Bill Sikes with the poker and the clasp-knife in his hands.
There must always be two parties to a quarrel, says the old adage; and Mr. Sikes, being disappointed of the dog's presence, at once transferred the quarrel to the new-comer.
"What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?" said Sikes with a fierce gesture.
"I did'nt know, my dear, I didn't know," replied Fagin humbly-for the Jew was the new-comer.
"Didn't know, you white-livered thief?" growled Sikes. "Couldn't you hear the noise ?"
"Not a sound of it, as I'm a living man, Bill," replied the Jew.
"Oh no, you hear nothing, you don't," retorted Sikes with a fierce sneer, "sneaking in and out so as nobody hears how you come or go. I wish you had been the dog, Fagin, half a minute ago.'
"Why?" inquired the Jew, with a forced smile.
"'Cause the government, as cares for the lives of such men as you, as haven't half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill his dog how he likes," replied Sikes, shutting the knife up with a very expressive look, "that's why."
The Jew rubbed his hands, and, sitting down at the table, affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend,-obviously very ill at his ease, however.
"Grin away," said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying him with savage contempt; "grin away. You'll never have the laugh at me, though, unless it's behind a nightcap. I've got the upper hand over you, Fagin; and, d— me, I'll keep it. There. If I go, you go;
so take care of me."
"Well, well, my dear," said the Jew, "I know all that; we-wehave a mutual interest, Bill,-a mutual interest."
"Humph!" said Sikes, as if he thought the interest lay rather more on the Jew's side than on his. "Well, what have you got to say to me."
"It's all passed safe through the melting pot," replied Fagin, "and this is your share. It's rather more than it ought to be, my dear; but as I know you'll do me a good turn another time, and
"Stow that gammon," interposed the robber, impatiently. is it? Hand over!"
"Yes, yes, Bill; give me time, give me time," replied the Jew, soothingly. "Here it is--all safe." As he spoke, he drew forth an old cotton handkerchief from his breast, and, untying a large knot in one corner, produced a small brown paper packet, which Sikes snatching from him, hastily opened, and proceeded to count the sovereigns it con. tained.
"This is all, is it?" inquired Sikes.
"All," replied the Jew.
"You haven't opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as you come along, have you?" inquired Sikes, suspiciously. "Don't put on a injured look at the question; you've done it many a time. Jerk the tinkler."
These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring the bell. It was answered by another Jew, younger than Fagin, but nearly as vile and repulsive in appearance.
Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure, and the Jew, perfectly understanding the hint, retired to fill it, previously exchanging a remarkable look with Fagin, who raised his eyes for an instant as if in expectation of it, and shook his head in reply, so slightly, that the action would have been almost imperceptible to a third person. It was lost upon Sikes, who was stooping at the moment to tie the boot-lace which the dog had torn. Possibly, if he had observed the brief interchange of signals, he might have thought it boded no good to him.
"Is anybody here, Barney?" inquired Fagin, speaking-now that Sikes was looking on-without raising his eyes from the ground.
"Dot a shoul," replied Barney, whose words, whether they came from the heart or not, made their way through the nose,
"Nobody?" inquired Fagin in a tone of surprise, which perhaps might mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth.
"Dobody but Biss Dadsy," replied Barney.
"Miss Nancy!" exclaimed Sikes. "Where? Strike me blind, if I don't honour that 'ere girl for her native talents."
"She's bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar," replied Barney. "Send her here," said Sikes, pouring out a glass of liquor; “send her here."
Barney looked timidly at Fagin, as if for permission; the Jew remaining silent, and not lifting his eyes from the ground, he retired, and presently returned ushering in Miss Nancy, who was decorated with the bonnet, apron, basket and street-door key complete.
"You are on the scent, are you, Nancy ?" inquired Sikes, proffering the glass.
"Yes, I am, Bill," replied the young lady, disposing of its contents; "and tired enough of it I am, too. The young brat's been ill and confined to the crib; and
"Ah, Nancy, dear!" said Fagin, looking up.
Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew's red eyebrows, and a half-closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy that she was disposed to be too communicative, is not a matter of much importance. The fact is all we need care for here; and the fact is, that she suddenly checked herself, and, with several gracious smiles upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to other matters. In about ten minutes time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit of coughing, upon which Miss Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders and declared it was time to go. Mr. Sikes, finding that he was walking a short part of her way him. self, expressed his intention of accompanying her; and they went away together, followed at a little distance by the dog, who slunk out of a back-yard as soon as his master was out of sight.
The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had left it, looked after him as he walked up the dark passage, shook his clenched fist, muttered a deep curse, and then with a horrible grin reseated him. self at the table, where he was soon deeply absorbed in the interesting pages of the Hue and Cry.
Meanwhile Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within so very short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way to the bookstall. When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidentally turned down a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but not discovering his mistake till he had got half way down it, and knowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think it worth while to turn back, and so marched on as quickly as he could, with the books under his arm.
He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought to feel, and how much he would give for only one look at poor little Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be lying dead at that very moment, when he was startled by a young woman screaming out very loud, "Oh, my dear brother!" and he had hardly looked up to see what the matter was, when he was stopped by having a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck.
"Don t!" cried Oliver struggling. "Let go of me. Who is it? What are you stopping me for ?"
The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations from the young woman who had embraced him, and who had got a little basket and a street-door key in her hand.
"Oh, my gracious!" said the young woman, "I've found him!" Oh, Oliver! Oliver! Oh, you naughty boy, to make me suffer such distress on your account! Come home, dear, come. Oh! I've found him. Thank gracious goodness heavins, I've found him!" With these incoherent exclamations the young woman burst into another fit of crying, and got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple of women who came up at the moment asked a butcher's boy, with a shiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was also looking on, whether he didn't think he had better run for the doctor. To which the butcher's boy, who appeared to be of a lounging, not to say indolent disposition, replied that he thought not.
Oh, no, no, never mind,” said the young woman, grasping Oliver's