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CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH.
RELATES WHAT BECAME OF OLIVER TWIST, AFTER HE HAD BEEN CLAIMED BY NANCY.
THE narrow streets and courts at length terminated in a large open space, scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and other indications of a cattle market. Sikes slackened his pace when they reached this spot, the girl being quite unable to support any longer the rapid rate at which they had hitherto walked; and, turning to Oliver, commanded him roughly to take hold of Nancy's hand.
"Do you hear?" growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and looked round.
They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers, and Oliver saw but too plainly that resistance would be of no avail. He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.
"Give me the other," said Sikes, seizing Oliver's unoccupied hand. "Here, Bull's-eye !"
The dog looked up, and growled.
"See here, boy!" said Sikes, putting his other hand to Oliver's throat, and uttering a savage oath; "if he speaks ever so soft a word, hold him! D'ye mind?"
The dog growled again, and, licking his lips, eyed Oliver as if he were anxious to attach himself to his windpipe without any unnecessary delay.
He's as willing as a christian, strike me blind if he isn't!" said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim and ferocious approval. "Now you know what you've got to expect, master, so call away as quick as you like; the dog will soon stop that game. Get on young 'un!"
Bull's-eye wagged his tail in acknowledgment of this unusually endearing form of speech, and, giving vent to another admonitory growl for the benefit of Oliver, led the way onward.
It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have been Grosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary. The night was dark and foggy, and it was just beginning to rain. The lights in the shops could scarcely struggle through the heavy mist, which thickened every moment, and shrouded the streets and houses in gloom, rendering the strange place still stranger in Oliver's eyes, and making his uncertainty the more dismal and depressing.
They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struck the hour. With its first stroke his two conductors stopped, and turned their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded.
"Eight o'clock, Bill," said Nancy, when the bell ceased. "What's the good of telling me that; I can hear, can't I?" replied Sikes.
"I wonder whether they can hear it," said Nancy.
Of course they can," replied Sikes. "It was Bartlemy time when I was shopped, and there warn't a penny trumpet in the fair as I couldn't hear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for the night, the row and din outside made the thundering old jail so silent, that I could almost have beat my brains out against the iron plates of the door." Poor fellows!" said Nancy, who still had her face turned towards
the quarter in which the bell had sounded. “Oh, bill, such fine young chaps as them!"
"Yes; that's all you women think of," answered Sikes. "Fine young chaps! Well, they're as good as dead; so it don't much matter." With this consolation Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising tendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver's wrist more firmly, told him to step out again.
"Wait a minute," said the girl: "I wouldn't hurry by, if it was you that was coming out to be hung the next time eight o'clock struck, Bill. I'd walk round and round the place till I dropped, if the snow was on the ground, and I hadn't a shawl to cover me."
And what good would that do?" inquired the unsentimental Mr. Sikes. "Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards of good stout rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or not walking at all, for all the good it would do me. Come on, will you, and don't stand preaching there."
The girl burst into a laugh, drew her shawl more closely round her, and they walked away. But Oliver felt her hand tremble; and, look. ing up in her face as they passed a gas-lamp, saw that it had turned a deadly white.
They walked on, by little-frequented and dirty ways, for a full halfhour, meeting very few people, for it now rained heavily, and those they did meet appearing from their looks to hold much the same position in society as Mr. Sikes himself. At length they turned into a very filthy narrow street, nearly full of old-clothes shops; and the dog running forward as if conscious that there was no further occasion for his keeping on guard, stopped before the door of a shop which was closed and apparently untenanted, for the house was in a ruinous condition, and upon the door was nailed a board intimating that it was to let, which looked as if it had hung there for many years.
"All right," said Sikes, looking cautiously about.
Nancy stooped below the shutters and Oliver heard the sound of a bell. They crossed to the opposite side of the street, and stood for a few moments under a lamp. A noise, as if a sash-window was gently raised, was heard, and soon afterwards the door softly opened; upon which Mr. Sikes seized the terrified boy by the collar with very little ceremony, and all three were quickly inside the house.
The passage was perfectly dark, and they waited while the person who had let them in, chained and barred the door.
"Anybody here?" inquired Sikes.
"No," replied a voice, which Oliver thought he had heard before. "Is the old 'un here?" asked the robber.
"Yes," replied the voice; "and precious down in the mouth he has been. Won't he be glad to see you? Oh, no.'
The style of his reply, as well as the voice which delivered it, seemed familiar to Oliver's ears; but it was impossible to distinguish even the form of the speaker in the darkness.
"Let's have a glim," said Sikes, "or we shall go breaking our necks, or treading on the dog. Look after your legs if you do, that's all." "Stand still a moment, and I'll get you one," replied the voice. The receding footsteps of the speaker were heard, and in another minute the form of Mr. John Dawkins, otherwise the artful Dodger, appeared, bearing in his right hand a tallow candle stuck in the end of a cleft stick.
The young gentleman did not stop to bestow any other mark of re. cognition upon Oliver than a humourous grin ; but, turning away, beckoned the visiters to follow him down a flight of stairs. They crossed an empty kitchen, and, opening the door of a low earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in a small back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter.
"Oh, my wig, my wig!" cried Master Charles Bates, from whose lungs the laughter had proceeded; "here he is! oh, cry, here he is! Oh, Fagin, look at him; Fagin, do look at him! I can't bear it; it is such a jolly game, I can't bear it. Hold me, somebody, while I laugh it out."
With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat on the floor, and kicked convulsively for five minutes in an ecstacy of facetious joy. Then, jumping to his feet, he snatched the cleft stick from the Dodger, and, advancing to Oliver, viewed him round and round, while the jew, taking off his night-cap, made a great number of low bows to the bewildered boy; the Artful meantime, who was of a rather saturnine disposition, and seldom gave way to merriment when it interfered with business, rifling his pockets with steady assiduity.
"Look at his togs, Fagin!" said Charley, putting the light so close to Oliver's new jacket as nearly to set him on fire. "Look at his togs!-superfine cloth, and the heavy-swell cut! Oh, my eye, what a game! And his books, too;-nothing but a gentleman, Fagin !"
Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear," said the Jew, bowing with mock humility. "The Artiul shall give you another suit, my dear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one. Why didn't you write, my dear, and say you were coming?-we'd have got something warm for supper."
At this, Master Bates roared again, so loud that Fagin himself relaxed, and even the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth the fivepound note at that instant, it is doubtful whether the sally or the discovery awakened his merriment.
"Hallo! what's that?" inquired Sikes, stepping forward as the Jew seized the note. "That's mine, Fagin.'
"No, no, my dear," said the Jew. "Mine, Bill, mine; you shall
have the books."
"If that ain't mine!" said Sikes, putting on his hat with a determined air," mine and Nancy's, that is,--I'll take the boy back again.'
The Jew started, and Oliver started too, though from a very different cause, for he hoped that the dispute might really end in his being taken back.
Come, hand it over, will you?" said Sikes.
"This is hardly fair, Bill; hardly fair, is it, Nancy?" inquiried the Jew.
"Fair, or not fair," retorted Sikes, "hand it over, I tell you! Do you think Nancy and me has got nothing else to do with our precious time but to spend it in scouting arter and kidnapping every young boy as gets grabbed through you? Give it here you avaricious old skeleton; give it here!"
With this gentle remonstrance, Mr. Sikes plucked the note from be. tween the Jew's finger and thumb; and, looking the old man coolly in the face, folded it up small, and tied it in his neckerchief.
"That's for our share of the trouble," said Sikes; "and not half