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numbered eighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference in his deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed to indicate that he felt himself conscious of a slight inferiority in point of genius and professional acquirements. He had small twinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a dark corduroy jacket, greasy fustian trousers and an apron. His wardrobe was, in truth, rather out of repair; but he excused himself to the company by stating that his "time" was only out an hour before, and that, in consequence of having worn the regimentals for six weeks past, he had not been able to bestow any attention on his private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, with strong marks of irritation, that the new way of fumigating clothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional, for it burnt holes in them, and there was no remedy against the county; the same remark he considered to apply to the regulation mode of cutting the hair, which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr. Chitling wound up his observations by stating that he had not touched a drop of anything for forty-two mortal long hard-working days, and that he wished he might be busted if he wasn't as dry as a lime-basket!"
"Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver," inquired the Jew with a grin, as the other boys put a bottle of spirits on the table. "I-I-don't know, sir," replied Oliver.
"Who's that?" inquired Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous look at Oliver.
“A young friend of mine, my dear,” replied the Jew.
"He's in luck then," said the young man, with a meaning look at Fagin. "Never mind where I came from, young 'un; you'll find your way there, soon enough, I'll bet a crown!"
At this sally the boys laughed, and, after some more jokes on the same subject, exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin, and withdrew. After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, they drew their chairs toward the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver to come and sit by him, led the conversation to the topics most calculated to interest his hearers. These were, the great advantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, the amiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jew himself. At length these subjects displayed signs of being thoroughly exhausted, and Mr. Chitling did the same (for the house of correction becomes fatiguing after a week or two) ; accordingly Miss Betsy withdrew, and left the party to their repose.
From this day Oliver was seldom left alone, but was placed in almost constant communication with the two boys, who played the old game with the Jew every day,-whether for their own im. provement, or Oliver's, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other times the old man would tell them stories of robberies he had committed in his younger days, mixed up with so much that was droll and curious, that Oliver could not help laughing heartily, and showing that he was amused spite of all his better feelings.
In short the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils; and, having prepared his mind by solitude and gloom to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it and change its hue forever.
CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH.
IN WHICH A NOTABLE PLAN IS DISCUSSED AND DETERMINED ON.
It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew, buttoning his great coat tight round his shrivelled body, and pulling the collar up over his ears so as completely to obscure the lower part of his face, emerged from his den. He paused on the step as the door was locked and chained behind him; and having listened while the boys made all secure, and until their retreating footsteps were no longer audible, slunk down the street as quickly as he could.
The house to which Oliver had been conveyed was in the neighborhood of Whitechapel; the Jew stopped for an instant at the corner of the street, and, glancing suspiciously round, crossed the road, and struck off in the direction of Spitalfields.
The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over the streets; the rain fell sluggishly down, and every thing felt cold and clammy to the touch. It seemed just the night when it befitted such a being as the Jew to be abroad. As he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved, crawling forth by night in search of some rich offal for a meal.
He kept on his course through many winding and narrow ways until he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involved in a maze of the mean, dirty streets which abound in that close and densely-populated quarter.
The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversed, however, to be at all bewildered either by the darkness of the night or the intricacies of the way. He hurried through several alleys and streets, and at length turned into one lighted only by a single lamp at the farther end. At the door of a house in this street he knocked, and having exchanged a few muttered words with the person who opened the door, walked up stairs.
A dog growled as he touched the handle of a door, and a man's voice demanded who was there.
"Only me, Bill; only me, my dear," said the Jew, looking in.
Bring in your body," said Sikes. "Lie down, you stupid brute ! Don't you know the devil when he's got a great-coat on?"
Apparently the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin's outer garment for as the Jew unbuttoned it, and threw it over the back of a chair, he retired to the corner from which he had risen, wagging his tail as he went, to show that he was as well satisfied as it was in his nature to be.
"Well!" said Sikes.
"Well, my dear," replied the Jew. "Ah! Nancy.' The latter recognition was uttered with just enough of embarrass. ment to apply a doubt of its reception; for Mr. Fagin and his young friend had not met since she had interfered in behalf of Oliver. doubts upon the subject, if he had any, were, however, speedily removed by the young lady's behaviour. She took her feet off the fender, pushed back her chair, and bade Fagin draw up his without saying any more
about it, for it was a cold night, and no mistake. Miss Nancy prefixed to the word "cold" another adjective, derived from the name of an unpleasant instrument of death, which, as the word is seldom mentioned to ears polite, in any other form than as a substantive, I have omitted in this chronicle.
"It is cold, Nancy, dear," said the Jew, as he warmed his skinny hands over the fire. It seems to go through one," added the old man touching his left side.
"It must be a piercer if it finds its way through your heart," said Mr. Sikes. "Give him something to drink, Nancy. Burn my body, make haste! It's enough to turn a man ill to see his lean old carcase shivering in that way, like an ugly ghost just rose from the grave."
Nancy quickly brought a bottle from a cupboard in which there were many, which, to judge from the diversity of their appearance were filled with several kinds of liquids; and Sikes, pouring out a glass of brandy, bade the Jew drink it off.
"Quite enough, quite, thankye Bill," replied the Jew, putting down the glass after just setting his lips to it.
"What! you're afraid of our getting the better of you, are you?" inquired Sikes fixing his eyes on the Jew; "ugh?”
With a hoarse grunt of contempt Mr. Sikes seized the glass and emptied it, as a preparatory ceremony to filling it again for himself, which he did at once.
The Jew glanced round the room as his companion tossed down the second glassful; not in curiosity, for he had seen it often before, but in a restless and suspicious manner which was habitual to him. It was a meanly furnished apartment, with nothing but the contents of the closet to induce the belief that its occupier was anything but a working man ; and with no more suspicious articles displayed to view than two or three heavy bludgeons which stood in a corner, and a "life-preserver" that hung over the mantelpiece.
There," said Sikes, smacking his lips. "For busines-eh ?'' inquired the Jew.
For business," replied Sikes;
"Now I'm ready."
so say what you've got to say." "About the crib at Chertsey, Bill ?" said the Jew, drawing his chair forward, and speaking in a very low voice.
"Yes. What about it?" inquired Sikes.
"Ah! you know what I mean, my dear," said the Jew. "He knows what I mean, Nancy; don't he?"
"No, he don't," sneered Mr. Sikes, " or he won't, and that's the same thing. Speak out and call things by their right names; don't sit there winking and blinking, and talking to me in hints, as if you warnt the very first that thought about the robbery. D-n your eyes! wot d'ye mean?" "Hush, Bill, hush!" said the Jew, who had in vain attempted to stop this burst of indignation; "somebody will hear us, my dear; somebody will hear us."
"Let 'em hear !" said Sikes: "I don't care. But as Mr. Sikes did care, upon reflection, he dropped his voice as he said the words, and grew calmer.
"There, there," said the Jew coaxingly. "It was only my cautionnothing more. Now, my dear, about that crib at Chertsey; when is it to be done, Bill, eh ?—when is it to be done? Such plate, my dears, such plate!" said the Jew, rubbing his hands, and elevating his eye. brows in a rapture of anticipation.
"Not at all," replied Sikes coldly.
"Not to be done at all !" echoed the Jew, leaning back in his chair. "No, not at all," rejoined Sikes ; "at least it can't be a put-up job as we expected."
"Then it hasn't been properly gone about," said the Jew, turning pale with anger. "Don't tell me!"
"But I will tell you," retorted Sikes. "Who are you that's not to be told? I tell you that Toby Crackit has been hanging about the place for a fortnight, and he can't get one of the servants into a line."
"Do you mean to tell me, Bill," said the Jew, softening as the other grew heated," that neither of the two men in the house can be got over?" "Yes, I do mean to tell you so," replied Sikes." The old lady has had 'em these twenty year; and, if you were to give 'em five hundred pound, they would'nt be in it."
"But do you mean to say, my dear," remonstrated the Jew, "that the women can't be got over?"
"Not a bit of it," replied Sikes.
"Not by flash Toby Crackit ?" said the Jew incredulously. "Think what women are, Bill."
"No-not even by flash Toby Crackit?" replied Sikes.
he's worn sham whiskers and a canary waistcoat the whole blessed time he's been loitering down there, and it's all of no use."
"He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers, my dear," said the Jew after a few moments' reflection.
"So he did," rejoined Sikes," and they warn't of no more use than the other plant."
The Jew looked very blank at this information, and, after ruminating for some minutes with his chin sunk on his breast, raised his head, and said with a deep sigh that, if flash Toby Crackit reported aright, he feared the game was up.
"And yet," said the old man, dropping his hand on his knees, “its a sad thing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set our hearts upon it." "So it is," said Mr. Sikes; "worse luck!"
A long silence ensued, during which the Jew was plunged in deep thought, with his face wrinkled into an expression at villany perfectly demoniacal. Sikes eyed him furtively from time to time; and, Nancy, apparently fearful of irritating the house-breaker, sat with her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had been deaf to all that passed.
Fagin," said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness that prevailed, "is it worth fifty shiners extra if it's safely done from the outside?" "Yes," said the Jew, suddenly rousing himself as if from a trance. "Is it a bargain?" inquired Sikes.
"Yes, my dear, yes," rejoined the Jew, grasping the other's hand, his eyes glistening and every muscle in his face working with the excitement that the inquiry had awakened.
"Then," said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew's hand with some disdain, "let it come off as soon as you like. Toby and I were over the garden-wall the night afore last, sounding the panels of the doors and shutters; the crib's barred up at night like a jail, but there's one part we can crack, safe and softly."
"Which is that, Bill?" asked the Jew, eagerly?"
Why," whispered Sikes, "as you cross the lawn
"Yes, yes," said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyes almost starting out of it.
"Umph!" cried Sikes, stopping short as the girl, scarcely moving her head, looked suddenly round and pointed at the Jew's face. "Never mind which part it is. You can't do it without me, I know; but it's best to be on the safe side when one deals with you.'
"As you like, my dear, as you like," replied the Jew, biting his lip. "Is there no help wanted but yours and Toby's?"
None," said Sikes, "'cept a centre-bit and a boy; the first we've both got; the second you must find us."
"A boy!" exclaimed the Jew. "Oh! then it is a pannel, eh?"
"Never mind wot it is!" replied Sikes; I want a boy and he mustn't be a big un. Lord!" said Mr. Sikes reflectively, "if I'd only got that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper's!-he kept him small on purpose, and let him out by the job. But the father gets lagged, and then the Juvenile Delinquent Society comes, and takes the boy away from a trade where he was arning money, teaches him to read and write, and in time makes a 'prentice of him. And so they go on," said Mr. Sikes, his wrath rising with the recollection of his wrongs,-" so they go on; and, if they'd got money enough, (which it's a Providence they have not,) we shouldn't have half-a-dozen boys left in the whole trade in a year or two."
"No more we should," acquiesced the Jew, who had been considering during this speech, and had only caught the last sentence.
"What now?" inquired Sikes.
The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing at the fire; and intimated by a sign that he would have her told to leave the room. Sikes shrugged his shoulders impatiently, as if he thought the precaution unnecessary, but complied, nevertheless, by requesting Miss Nancy to fetch him a jug of beer.
"You don't want any beer," said Nancy, folding her arms, and retaining her seat very composedly.
"I tell you I do!" replied Sikes.
"Nonsense!" rejoined the girl, cooly. "Go on, Fagin. I know what he's going to say, Bill; he needn't mind me."
The Jew still hesitated, and Sikes looked from one to the other in some surprise.
"Why, you don't mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?" he asked at length. "You've known her long enough to trust her, or the devil's in it; she ain't one to blab, are you, Nancy?"
"I should think not!" replied the young lady, drawing her chair up
to the table, and putting her elbows upon it.
"No, no, my dear," I know you're not," said the Jew; “butand again the old man paused.
"But wot?" inquired Sikes.
"I didn't know whether she mightn't p'raps be out of sorts, you know, my dear, as she was the other night," replied the Jew.
At this confession Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh, and, swallow. ing a glass of brandy, shook her head with an air of defiance, and burst into sundry exclamations of "Keep the game a-going!" "Never say die!" and the like, which seemed at once to have the effect of reassuring both gentlemen, for the Jew nodded his head with a satisfied air, and resumed his seat, as did Mr. Sikes likewise.
"Now, Fagin," said Miss Nancy with a laugh, "tell Bill at once about Oliver!"
“Ah! you're a clever one, my dear; the sharpest girl I ever saw !”