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be rescued from his present dangers: and that if any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy, who had never known the love of friends or kindred, it might come to him now, when, desolate and deserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt.
He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head buried in his hands, when a rustling noise aroused him.
"What's that!" he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a figure standing by the door. Who's there?"
"Me-only me," replied a tremulous voice.
Oliver raised the candle above his head, and looked towards the door. It was Nancy.
"Put down the light," said the girl, turning away her head: "it hurts my eyes."
Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she were ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him, and wrung her hands; but made no reply.
God forgive me!" she cried after a while, "I never thought of all this."
"Has anything happened?" asked Oliver. "Can I help you? I will if I can? I will indeed."
She rocked herself to and fro, and then, wringing her hands violently, caught her throat, and, uttering a gurgling sound, struggled and gasped for breath.
What is it?"
Nancy!" cried Oliver, greatly alarmed. The girl burst into a fit of loud laughter, beating her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the ground, meanwhile; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her, and shivered with cold.
Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat there for a little time without speaking, but at length she raised her head and looked round.
"I don't know what comes over me sometimes," said the girl, affecting to busy herself in arranging her dress; "it's this damp, dirty room, I think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?"
"Am I to go with you?" asked Oliver. "Yes; I have come from Bill," replied the girl. with me."
"What for?" said Oliver recoiling.
"You are to go
"What for!" echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them again the moment they encountered the boy's face. "Oh! for no harm."
"I don't believe it," said Oliver, who had watched her closely. "Have it your own way," rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh. "For no good, then."
Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl's better feelings, and for an instant thought of appealing to her compassion for his helpless state. But then the thought darted across his mind that it was barely eleven o'clock, and that many people were still in the streets, of whom surely some might be found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occurred to him, he stepped forward, and said somewhat hastily that he was ready.
Neither his brief consideration nor its purport were lost upon his companion. She eyed him narrowly while he spoke, and cast upon
him a look of intelligence which sufficiently showed that she guessed what had been passing in his thoughts.
"Hush!" said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the door as she looked cautiously round. "You can't help yourself. I have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round and round; and, if ever you are to get loose from here, this is not the time." Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face with great surprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her countenance was white and agitated, and she trembled with very ear
"I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and I do now," continued the girl aloud; "for those who would have fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have promised for your being quiet and silent; if you are not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too, and perhaps be my death. See here! I have borne all this for you already, as true as God sees me show it."
She pointed hastily to some livid bruises upon her neck and arms, and continued with great rapidity.
"Remember this, and don't let me suffer more for you just now. If I could help you I would, but I have not the power: they don't mean to harm you; and whatever they make you do, is no fault of yours. Hush! every word from you is a blow for me: give me your hand-make haste, your hand!"
She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers, and blowing out the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The door was opened quickly by some one shrouded in the darkness, and as quickly closed when they had passed out. A hackney cabriolet was in waiting; and, with the same vehemence which she had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in with her, and drew the curtains close. The driver wanted no directions, but lashed his horse into full speed without the delay of an instant.
The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to pour into his ear the warnings and assurances she had already imparted. All was so quick and hurried, that he had scarcely time to recollect where he was, or how he came there, when the carriage stopped at the same house to which the Jew's steps had been directed on the previous evening.
For one brief moment Oliver cast a hurried glance along the empty street, and a cry for help hung upon his lips. But the girl's voice was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of agony to remember her, that he had not the heart to utter it; and while he hesitated, the opportunity was gone, for he was already in the house, and the door was shut.
"This way," said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time. "Bill !"
"Hallo!" replied Sikes, appearing at the head of the stairs with a candle. "Oh! that's the time of day. Come on!"
This was a very strong expression of approbation, and an uncommonly hearty welcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes's temperament; Nancy, appearing much gratified thereby, saluted him cordially.
Bullseye's gone home with Tom," observed Sikes as he lighted them up. "He'd have been in the way."
"That's right," rejoined Nancy.
"So you've got the kid," said Sikes, when they had all reached the room closing the door as he spoke.
"Yes, here he is," replied Nancy.
"Did he come quiet?" inquired Sikes.
Like a lamb," rejoined Nancy.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver, "for the sake of his young carcase, as would otherways have suffered for it. Come here, young 'un, and let me read you a lectur', which is as well got over at once.
Thus addressing his new protégé, Mr. Sikes pulled off his cap and threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat himself down by the table, and stood Oliver in front of him.
"Now first, do you know what this is ?" inquired Sikes, taking up a pocket-pistol which lay on the table.
Oliver replied in the affirmative.
"Well then, look here," continued Sikes. "This is powder, that 'ere's a bullet, and this is a little bit of a old hat for waddin'."
Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies referred to, and Mr. Sikes proceeded to load the pistol with great nicety and deliberation.
"Now it's loaded," said Mr. Sikes when he had finished.
"Yes, I see it is, sir," replied Oliver trembling.
"Well," said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist tightly, and putting the barrel so close to his temple that they touched, at which moment the boy could not repress a shriek ; " if you speak a word when you're out o'doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in your head without notice-so, if you do make up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first."
Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of his warning, to increase its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.
"As near as I know, there isn't anybody as would be asking very partickler arter you, if you was disposed of; so I needn't take this devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you if it warn't for your own good. D'ye hear?"
"The short and the long of what you mean," said Nancy, speaking very emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver, as if to bespeak his serious attention to her words, " is, that if you're crossed by him in this job you have on hand, you'll prevent his ever telling tales afterwards, by shooting him through the head, and take your chance of swinging for it as you do for a great many other things in the way of business every month of your life."
"That's it!" observed Mr. Sikes approvingly; "women can always put things in fewest words, except when it's blowing-up, and then they lengthens it out. And now that he's thoroughly up to it, let's have some supper, and get a snooze afore starting."
In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth, and, disappearing for a few minutes, presently returned with a pot of porter and a dish of sheeps' heads, which gave occasion to several pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr. Sikes, founded upon the singular coincidence of "jemmies" being a cant name common to them and an ingenious implement much used in his profession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps by the immediate prospect of being in
active service, was in great spirits and good-humor; in proof whereof it may be here remarked, that he humorously drank all the beer at a draught, and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than fourscore oaths during the whole progress of the meal.
Supper being ended,-it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no great appetite for it,-Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses of spirits and water, and threw himself upon the bed, ordering Nancy, with many imprecations in case of failure, to call him at five precisely. Oliver stretched himself, in his clothes, by command of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; and the girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse them at the appointed time.
For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that Nancy might seek that opportunity of whispering some further advice, but the girl sat brooding over the fire without moving, save now and then to trim the light weary with watching and anxiety, he at length fell asleep.
When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikes was thrusting various articles into the pockets of his great-coat which hung over the back of a chair, while Nancy was busily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not yet daylight, for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside. A sharp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes, and the sky looked black and cloudy. "Now, then!" growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; "half-past five! Look sharp, or you'll get no breakfast, for it's late as it is."
Oliver was not long in making his toilet; and, having taken some breakfast, replied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by saying that he was quite ready.
Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief to tie round his throat, and Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button over his shoulders. Thus attired, he gave his hand to the robber, who, merely pausing to show him, with a menacing gesture, that he had the pistol in a side pocket of his great coat, clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy, led him away.
Oliver turned round for an instant when they reached the door, in the hope of meeting a look from the girl; but she had resumed her old seat in front of the fire, and sat perfectly motionless before it.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST.
It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street, blowing and raining hard, and the clouds looking dull and stormy. The night had been very wet, for large pools of water had collected in the road, and the kennels were overflowing. There was a faint glimmering of the coming day in the sky, but it rather aggravated than relieved the gloom of the scene, the sombre light only serving to pale that which the street-lamps afforded, without shedding any warmer or brighter tints upon the wet housetops and dreary streets. There appeared to be nobody stirring in that quarter of the town, for the windows of the
houses were all closely shut, and the streets through which they passed noiseless and empty.
By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green road the day had fairly begun to break. Many of the lamps were already extinguished, a few country waggons were slowly toiling on towards London, and now and then a stage-coach, covered with mud, rattled briskly by, the driver bestowing, as he passed, an admonitory lash upon the heavy waggoner, who, by keeping on the wrong side of the road, had endangered his arriving at the office a quarter of a minute after his time. The public-houses, with gas-lights burning inside, were already open. By degrees other shops began to be unclosed, and a few scattered people were met with. Then came straggling groups of laborers going
to their work; then men and women with fish-baskets on their heads, donkey carts laden with vegetables, chaise-carts filled with live-stock or whole carcases of meat, milkwomen with pails, and an unbroken concourse of people trudging out with various supplies to the eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached the City, the noise and traffic gradually increased; and, when they threaded the streets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled into a roar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely to be till night set in again, and the busy morning of half the London population had begun.
Turning down Sun-street and Crown-street, and crossing Finsburysquare, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell-street, into Barbican, thence into Long-lane, and so into Smithfield, from which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver Twist with sur prise and amazement.
It was market-morning. The ground was covered nearly ankle. deep with filth and mire; and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary ones as could be crowded intothe vacant space were filled with sheep; and, tied up to posts by the gutter side, were long lines of beasts and oxen three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a dense mass : the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plung. ing of beasts, the bleating of sheep, and grunting and squeaking of pigs; the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides, the ringing of bells and roar of voices that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping, and yelling; the hideous and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene which quite confounded the
Mr. Sikes, dragging Oliver after him, elbowed his way through the thickest of the crowd, and bestowed very little attention upon the numerous sights and sounds which so astonished the boy. He nodded twice or thrice to a passing friend; and, resisting as many invitations to take a morning dram, pressed steadily onward until they were clear of the turmoil, and had made their way through Hosier-lane into Holborn.
"Now, young 'un!" said Sikes surlily, looking up at the clock of St.