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Andrew's church, "hard upon seven! you must step out. Come, don't lag behind already, Lazy-legs!"
Mr. Sikes accompanied this speech with a fierce jerk at his little companion's wrist; and Oliver quickening his pace into a kind of trot, between a fast walk and a run, kept up with the rapid strides of the housebreaker as well as he could.
They kept on their course at this rate until they had passed HydePark corner, and were on their way to Kensington, when Sikes relaxed his pace until an empty cart, which was at some little distance behind, came up when, seeing "Hounslow" written upon it, he asked the driver, with as much civility as he could assume, if he would give them a lift as far as Isleworth,"
"Jump up," said the man. "Is that your boy?"
Yes; he is my boy," replied Sikes, looking hard at Oliver, and putting his hand abstractedly into the pocket where the pistol was. "Your father walks rather too quick for you; don't he, inquired the driver, seeing that Oliver was out of breath.
my man ?" "Not a bit of it," replied Sikes, interposing. "He is used to it. Here, take hold of my hand, Ned. In with you!"
Thus addressing Oliver, he helped him into the cart; and the driver, pointing to a heap of sacks, told him to lie down there, and rest himself.
As they passed the different milestones, Oliver wondered more and more where his companion meant to take him. Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentfort, were all passed; and yet they kept on as steadily as if they had only begun their journey. At length they came to a public-house called the Coach and Horses, a little way beyond which, another road appeared to turn off. And here the cart stopped.
Sikes dismounted with great precipitation, holding Oliver by the hand all the while; and, lifting him down directly, bestowed a furious look upon him, and rapped the side-pocket with his fist in a very sig
"Good-b'ye, boy!" said the man.
"He's sulky," replied Sikes, giving him a shake; "he's sulky,—a young dog! Don't mind him."
"Not I!" rejoined the other, getting into his cart. "It's a fine day, after all." And he drove away.
Sikes waited till he had fairly gone, and then, telling Oliver he might look about him if he wanted, once again led him forward on his journey.
They turned round to the left a short way past the public-house, and then, taking a right-hand road, walked on for a long time, passing, many large gardens and gentlemen's houses on both sides of the way, and at length crossing a little bridge which led them into Twickenham; from which town they still walked on without stopping for any thing but some beer, until they reached another town, in which, against the wall of a house, Oliver saw written up in pretty large letters "Hampton." Turning round by a public-house which bore the sign of the Red Lion, they kept on by the river side for a short distance, and then Sikes, striking off into a narrow street, walked straight to an old public-house with a defaced sign-board, and ordered some dinner by the kitchen fire.
The kitchen was an old low-roofed room, with a great beam across the middle of the ceiling, and benches with high backs to them by the fire, on which were seated several rough men in smock-frocks, drinking and smoking. They took no notice of Oliver, and very little of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very little notice of them, he and his young comrade sat in a corner by themselves, without being much troubled by the company.
They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat here so long after it, while Mr. Sikes indulged himself with three or four pipes, that Oliver began to feel quite certain they were not going any further. Being much tired with the walk and getting up so early, he dozed a little at first; and then, quite overpowered by fatigue and the fumes of the tobacco, fell fast asleep.
It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes. Rousing himself sufficiently to sit up and look about him, he found that worthy in close fellowship and communication with a laboring man, over a pint of ale.
"So, you're going on to Lower Halliford, are you?" inquired Sikes.
Yes, I am," replied the man, who seemed a little the worse-or better, as the case might be-for drinking; "and not slow about it either. My horse hasn't got a load behind him going back, as he had coming up in the morning', and he won't be long a-doing of it. Here's luck to him! Ecod, he's a good 'un!"
"Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there ?" demanded Sikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.
"If you're going directly, I can," replied the man, looking out of the pot. แ Are you going to Halliford ?"
Going on to Shepperton," replied Sikes.
"I am your man as far as I go," replied the other. "Is all paid, Becky?"
"Yes, the other gentleman 's paid," replied the girl.
"I say!" said the man with tipsy gravity; "that won't do, you know."
Why not?" rejoined Sikes. "You 're a-going to accommodate. us, and wot 's to prevent my standing treat for a pint or so, in return?"
The stranger reflected upon this argument with a very profound face, and, having done so, seized Sikes by the hand, and declared he was a real good fellow. To which Mr. Sikes replied he was joking; as, if he had been sober, there would have been strong reason to suppose he was.
After the exchange of a few more compliments, they bade the company good-night, and went out: the girl gathering up the pots and glasses as they did so, and lounging out to the door, with her hands full, to see the party start.
The horse, whose health had been drunk in his absence, was standing outside, ready harnessed to the cart. Oliver and Sikes got in without any further ceremony, and the man to whom he belonged, having lingered a minute or two " to bear him up," and to defy the hostler and the world to produce his equal, mounted also. Then the hostler was told to give the horse his head, and, his head been given him, he made a very unpleasent use of it, tossing it into the air with great disdain,
and 'running into the parlor windows over the way; after performing which feats, and supporting himself for a short time on his hind-legs, he started off at great speed, and rattled out of the town right gallantly.
The night was very dark; and a damp mist arose from the river and the marshy ground about, and spread itself over the dreary fields. It was piercing cold, too; all was gloomy and black. Not a word was spoken, for the driver had grown sleepy, and Sikes was in no mood to lead him into conversation. Oliver sat huddled together in a corner of the cart bewildered with alarm and apprehension, and figuring strange objects in the gaunt trees, whose branches waved grimly to and fro, as if in some fantastic joy at the desolation of the scene. As they passed Sunbury church, the clock struck seven. There was a light in the ferry-house window opposite, which streamed across the road, and threw into more sombre shadow a dark yew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dull sound of falling water not far off, and the leaves of the old tree stirred gently in the night wind. It seemed like solemn quiet music for the repose of the dead.
Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonely road. Two or three miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikes alighted and, taking Oliver by the hand, they once again walked on.
They turned into no house at Shepperton, as the weary boy had ex. pected, but still kept walking on in mud and darkness through gloomy lanes and over cold open wastes, until they came within sight of the lights of a town at no great distance. On looking intently forward, Oliver saw that the water was just below them, and that they were coming to the foot of a bridge.
Sikes kept straight on till they were close upon the bridge, and then turned suddenly down a bank upon the left. "The water!" thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. "He has brought me to this lonely place to murder me?"
He was about to throw himself on the ground, and make one struggle for his young life, when he saw that they stood before a solitary house all ruinous and decayed. There was a window on each side of the dilapidated entrance, and one story above; but no light was visible. It was dark, dismantled, and to all appearance uninhabited.
Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low porch, and raised the latch. The door yielded to his pressure, and they passed in together.
CHAPTER THE TWFNTY-SECOND.
"HALLO!" cried a loud, hoarse voice, directly they had set foot in the passage.
"Don't make such a row," said Sikes, bolting the door. glim, Toby."
"Aha! my pal," cried the same voice; "a glim, Barney, a glim! Show the gentleman in, Barney; and wake up first, if convenient."
The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article, at the person he addressed, to rouse him from his slumbers; for the noise
of a wooden body falling violently was heard, and then an indistinct muttering as of a man between asleep and awake. "Do you hear?" cried the same voice. "There's Bill Sikes in the passage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleeping there, as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothing stronger. Are you any fresher now, or do you want the iron candlestick to wake you thoroughly?"
A pair of slipshod feet shuffled hastily across the bare floor of the room as this interrogatory was put; and there issued from a door on the right hand, first a feeble candle, and next, the form of the same individual who has been heretofore described as laboring under the infirmity of speaking through his nose, and officiating as waiter at the public-house on Saffron Hill.
"Bister Sikes!" exclaimed Barney, with real or counterfeit joy; cub id, sir; cub id.”
"Here! you get on first," said Sikes, putting Oliver in front of him. "Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels."
Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver before him, and they entered a low dark room with a smoky fire, two or three broken chairs, a table, and a very old couch, on which, with his legs much higher than his head, a man was reposing at full length, smoking a long clay pipe. He was dressed in a smartly-cut snuffcolored coat with large brass buttons, an orange neckerchief, a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat, and drab breeches. Mr. Crackit (for he it was) had no very great quantity of hair, either upon his head or face; but what he had was of a reddish dye, and tortured into long, corkscrew curls, through which he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers, ornamented with large common rings. He was a trifle above the middle size, and apparently rather weak in the legs; but this circumstance by no means detracted from his own admiration of his top-boots, which he contemplated in their elevated situation with lively satisfaction.
"Bill, my boy!" said this figure, turning his head towards the door, "I'm glad to see you; I was almost afraid you'd given it up, in which case I should have made a personal wentur'. Hallo!"
Uttering this exclamation in a tone of great surprise as his eyes rested on Oliver, Mr. Toby Crackit brought himself into a sitting posture, and demanded who that was.
The boy—only the boy!" replied Sikes, drawing a chair towards the fire.
"Wud of Bister Fagid's lads," exclaimed Barney, with a grin. "Fagin's, eh!" exclaimed Toby, looking at Oliver. "Wot an inwalable boy that'll make for the old ladies' pockets in chapels. His mug is a fortun' to him."
"There-there's enough of that!" interposed Sikes impatiently; and, stooping over his recumbent friend, he whispered a few words in his ear, at which Mr. Crackit laughed immensely, and honored Oliver with a long stare of astonishment.
"Now," said Sikes, as he resumed his seat, "if you'll give us something to eat and drink while we're waiting, you'll put some heart in us,—or in me, at all events. Sit down by the fire, younker, and rest yourself; for you'll have to go out with us again to-night, though not very far off."
Oliver looked at Sikes in mute and timid wonder, and, drawing a stool to the fire, sat with his aching head upon his hands, scarcely knowing where he was, or what was passing around him.
Here," said Toby, as the young Jew placed some fragments of food and a bottle upon the table, "Success to the crack!"
He rose to honor the toast, and, carefully depositing his empty pipe in a corner, advanced to the table, filled a glass with spirits, and drank off its contents. Mr. Sikes did the same.
"A drain for the boy," said Toby, half filling a wine-glass. "Down with it, innocence!"
"Indeed," said Oliver, looking piteously up into the man's face; "indeed I
"Down with it!" echoed Toby. "Do you think I don't know what's good for you? Tell him to drink it, Bill.”
"He had better," said Sikes, clapping his hand upon his pocket. "Burn my body! if he isn't more trouble than a whole family of Dodgers. Drink it, you perwerse imp; drink it!"
Frightened by the menacing gestures of the two men, Oliver hastily swallowed the contents of the glass, and immediately fell into a violent fit of coughing, which delighted Toby Crackit and Barney, and even drew a smile from the surly Mr. Sikes.
This done, and Sikes having satisfied his appetite, (Oliver could eat nothing but a small crust of bread which they made him swallow,) the two men laid themselves down on chairs for a short nap. Oliver retained his stool by the fire; and Barney, wrapped in a blanket, stretched himself on the floor, close outside the fender.
They slept, or appeared to sleep, for some time; nobody stirring but Barney, who rose once or twice to throw coals upon the fire. Oliver fell into a heavy doze, imagining himself straying alone through the gloomy lanes, or wandering about the dark churchyard, or retracing some one or other of the scenes of the past day, when he was roused by Toby Crackit's jumping up and declaring it was halfpast one.
In an instant the other two were on their legs, and all were actively engaged in busy preparation. Sikes and his companion enveloped their necks and chins in large dark shawls, and drew on their greatcoats; while Barney, opening a cupboard, brought forth several articles, which he hastily crammed into the pockets.
"Barkers for me, Barney?" said Toby Crackit.
"Here they are," replied Barney, producing a pair of pistols. “You loaded them yourself."
"All right!" replied Toby, stowing them away.
"Crape, keys, centre-bit, darkies-nothing forgotten?" inquired Toby, fastening a small crowbar to a loop inside the skirt of his coat. All right!" rejoined his companion. "Bring them bits of timber, Barney that's the time of day."
With these words he took a thick stick from Barney's hands, who, having delivered another to Toby, busied himself in fastening on Oliver's cape.
Now then!" said Sikes, holding out his hand.
Oliver, who was completely stupified by the unwonted exercise,