Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Novel by Charles Dickens

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it willbe prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitiousname, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, aworkhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need nottrouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence tothe reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortalitywhose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, bythe parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether thechild would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat morethan probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had,that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed theinestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography,extant in the literature of any age or country.

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, isin itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befalla human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was thebest thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The factis, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take uponhimself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one whichcustom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he laygasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this worldand the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if,during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers,anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he wouldmost inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobodyby, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by anunwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters bycontract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was,that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded toadvertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having beenimposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably havebeen expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very usefulappendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and aquarter.

As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, thepatchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled;the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faintvoice imperfectly articulated the words, “Let me see the child, anddie.”

The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving thepalms of his hands a warm and a rub alternately. As the young woman spoke, herose, and advancing to the bed’s head, said, with more kindness thanmight have been expected of him:

“Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.”

“Lor bless her dear heart, no!” interposed the nurse, hastilydepositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she hadbeen tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.

“Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, andhad thirteen children of her own, and all on ’em dead except two, andthem in the wurkus with me, she’ll know better than to take on in thatway, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there’s adear young lamb do.”

Apparently this consolatory perspective of a mother’s prospects failed inproducing its due effect. The patient shook her head, and stretched out herhand towards the child.

The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lipspassionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildlyround; shuddered; fell back—and died. They chafed her breast, hands, andtemples; but the blood had stopped forever. They talked of hope and comfort.They had been strangers too long.

“It’s all over, Mrs. Thingummy!” said the surgeon at last.

“Ah, poor dear, so it is!” said the nurse, picking up the cork ofthe green bottle, which had fallen out on the pillow, as she stooped to take upthe child. “Poor dear!”

“You needn’t mind sending up to me, if the child cries,nurse,” said the surgeon, putting on his gloves with great deliberation.“It’s very likely it will be troublesome. Give it a littlegruel if it is.” He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on hisway to the door, added, “She was a good-looking girl, too; where did shecome from?”

“She was brought here last night,” replied the old woman, “bythe overseer’s order. She was found lying in the street. She had walkedsome distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, orwhere she was going to, nobody knows.”

The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand. “The oldstory,” he said, shaking his head: “no wedding-ring, I see. Ah!Good-night!”

The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once moreapplied herself to the green bottle, sat down on a low chair before the fire,and proceeded to dress the infant.

What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was!Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he mighthave been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for thehaughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. But nowthat he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in thesame service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place atonce—a parish child—the orphan of a workhouse—the humble,half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through theworld—despised by all, and pitied by none.

Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to thetender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried thelouder.

For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic courseof treachery and deception. He was brought up by hand. The hungry and destitutesituation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authoritiesto the parish authorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of theworkhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled in “thehouse” who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist, the consolationand nourishment of which he stood in need. The workhouse authorities repliedwith humility, that there was not. Upon this, the parish authoritiesmagnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be“farmed,” or, in other words, that he should be dispatched to abranch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenileoffenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without theinconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parentalsuperintendence of an elderly female, who received the culprits at and for theconsideration of sevenpence-halfpenny per small head per week.Sevenpence-halfpenny’s worth per week is a good round diet for a child; agreat deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload itsstomach, and make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdomand experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a veryaccurate perception of what was good for herself. So, she appropriated thegreater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the risingparochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally providedfor them. Thereby finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and provingherself a very great experimental philosopher.

Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who had a greattheory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated itso well, that he had got his own horse down to a straw a day, and wouldunquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal onnothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to havehad his first comfortable bait of air. Unfortunately for the experimentalphilosophy of the female to whose protecting care Oliver Twist was deliveredover, a similar result usually attended the operation of her system; forat the very moment when the child had contrived to exist upon the smallestpossible portion of the weakest possible food, it did perversely happen ineight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold,or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident; in anyone of which cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned intoanother world, and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this.

Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interesting inquest upon aparish child who had been overlooked in turning up a bedstead, or inadvertentlyscalded to death when there happened to be a washing—though the latteraccident was very scarce, anything approaching to a washing being of rareoccurrence in the farm—the jury would take it into their heads to asktroublesome questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously affix theirsignatures to a remonstrance. But these impertinences were speedily checked bythe evidence of the surgeon, and the testimony of the beadle; the former ofwhom had always opened the body and found nothing inside (which was veryprobable indeed), and the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parishwanted; which was very self-devotional. Besides, the board made periodicalpilgrimages to the farm, and always sent the beadle the day before, to say theywere going. The children were neat and clean to behold, when they went;and what more would the people have!

It cannot be expected that this system of farming would produce any veryextraordinary or luxuriant crop. Oliver Twist’s ninth birthday found hima pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small incircumference. But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit inOliver’s breast. It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the sparediet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may be attributedhis having any ninth birth-day at all. Be this as it may, however, it was hisninth birthday; and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select party oftwo other young gentleman, who, after participating with him in a soundthrashing, had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry, when Mrs.Mann, the good lady of the house, was unexpectedly startled by the apparitionof Mr. Bumble, the beadle, striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate.

“Goodness gracious! Is that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?” said Mrs. Mann,thrusting her head out of the window in well-affected ecstasies of joy.“(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats upstairs, and wash ’emdirectly.)—My heart alive! Mr. Bumble, how glad I am to see you,sure-ly!”

Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead of responding tothis open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit, he gave the little wicket atremendous shake, and then bestowed upon it a kick which could have emanatedfrom no leg but a beadle’s.

“Lor, only think,” said Mrs. Mann, running out,—for the threeboys had been removed by this time,—“only think of that! That Ishould have forgotten that the gate was bolted on the inside, on account ofthem dear children! Walk in sir; walk in, pray, Mr. Bumble, do, sir.”

Although this invitation was accompanied with a curtsey that might havesoftened the heart of a church-warden, it by no means mollified the beadle.

“Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,”inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, “to keep the parish officers awaiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon porochial business withthe porochial orphans? Are you aweer, Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, aporochial delegate, and a stipendiary?”

“I’m sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two of thedear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,” repliedMrs. Mann with great humility.

Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance. He haddisplayed the one, and vindicated the other. He relaxed.

“Well, well, Mrs. Mann,” he replied in a calmer tone; “it maybe as you say; it may be. Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come on business,and have something to say.”

Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brick floor; placed aseat for him; and officiously deposited his cocked hat and cane on the tablebefore him. Mr. Bumble wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his walkhad engendered, glanced complacently at the cocked hat, and smiled. Yes, hesmiled. Beadles are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled.

“Now don’t you be offended at what I’m a going to say,”observed Mrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness. “You’ve had a longwalk, you know, or I wouldn’t mention it. Now, will you take a littledrop of somethink, Mr. Bumble?”

“Not a drop. Nor a drop,” said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand ina dignified, but placid manner.

“I think you will,” said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of therefusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it. “Just a leetle drop,with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.”

Mr. Bumble coughed.

“Now, just a leetle drop,” said Mrs. Mann persuasively.

“What is it?” inquired the beadle.

“Why, it’s what I’m obliged to keep a little of in the house,to put into the blessed infants’ Daffy, when they ain’t well, Mr.Bumble,” replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and took downa bottle and glass. “It’s gin. I’ll not deceive you, Mr. B.It’s gin.”

“Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?” inquired Bumble,following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing.

“Ah, bless ’em, that I do, dear as it is,” replied the nurse.“I couldn’t see ’em suffer before my very eyes, you knowsir.”

“No”; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; “no, you could not. Youare a humane woman, Mrs. Mann.” (Here she set down the glass.) “Ishall take a early opportunity of mentioning it to the board, Mrs. Mann.”(He drew it towards him.) “You feel as a mother, Mrs. Mann.” (Hestirred the gin-and-water.) “I—I drink your health withcheerfulness, Mrs. Mann”; and he swallowed half of it.

“And now about business,” said the beadle, taking out a leathernpocket-book. “The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, is nine yearold to-day.”

“Bless him!” interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with thecorner of her apron.

“And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was afterwardsincreased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most superlative, and, I maysay, supernat’ral exertions on the part of this parish,” saidBumble, “we have never been able to discover who is his father, or whatwas his mother’s settlement, name, or condition.”

Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a moment’sreflection, “How comes he to have any name at all, then?”

The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, “I inwentedit.”

“You, Mr. Bumble!”

“I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last wasa S,—Swubble, I named him. This was a T,—Twist, I named him.The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names readymade to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we cometo Z.”

“Why, you’re quite a literary character, sir!” said Mrs.Mann.

“Well, well,” said the beadle, evidently gratified with thecompliment; “perhaps I may be. Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.” Hefinished the gin-and-water, and added, “Oliver being now too old toremain here, the board have determined to have him back into the house. I havecome out myself to take him there. So let me see him at once.”

“I’ll fetch him directly,” said Mrs. Mann, leaving the roomfor that purpose. Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outer coat ofdirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed, as could be scrubbed off inone washing, was led into the room by his benevolent protectress.

“Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,” said Mrs. Mann.

Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on the chair, and thecocked hat on the table.

“Will you go along with me, Oliver?” said Mr. Bumble, in a majesticvoice.

Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with greatreadiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs. Mann, who had gotbehind the beadle’s chair, and was shaking her fist at him with a furiouscountenance. He took the hint at once, for the fist had been too oftenimpressed upon his body not to be deeply impressed upon his recollection.

“Will she go with me?” inquired poor Oliver.

“No, she can’t,” replied Mr. Bumble. “But she’llcome and see you sometimes.”

This was no very great consolation to the child. Young as he was, however, hehad sense enough to make a feint of feeling great regret at going away. It wasno very difficult matter for the boy to call tears into his eyes. Hunger andrecent ill-usage are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried verynaturally indeed. Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and what Oliverwanted a great deal more, a piece of bread and butter, less he should seem toohungry when he got to the workhouse. With the slice of bread in his hand, andthe little brown-cloth parish cap on his head, Oliver was then led away by Mr.Bumble from the wretched home where one kind word or look had never lighted thegloom of his infant years. And yet he burst into an agony of childish grief, asthe cottage-gate closed after him. Wretched as were the little companions inmisery he was leaving behind, they were the only friends he had ever known; anda sense of his loneliness in the great wide world, sank into the child’sheart for the first time.

Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmly grasping hisgold-laced cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring at the end of every quarter of amile whether they were “nearly there.” To these interrogations Mr.Bumble returned very brief and snappish replies; for the temporary blandnesswhich gin-and-water awakens in some bosoms had by this time evaporated; and hewas once again a beadle.

Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarter of an hour, andhad scarcely completed the demolition of a second slice of bread, when Mr.Bumble, who had handed him over to the care of an old woman, returned; and,telling him it was a board night, informed him that the board had said he wasto appear before it forthwith.

Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board was, Oliver wasrather astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite certain whether heought to laugh or cry. He had no time to think about the matter, however; forMr. Bumble gave him a tap on the head, with his cane, to wake him up: andanother on the back to make him lively: and bidding him to follow, conductedhim into a large white-washed room, where eight or ten fat gentlemen weresitting round a table. At the top of the table, seated in an arm-chair ratherhigher than the rest, was a particularly fat gentleman with a very round, redface.

“Bow to the board,” said Bumble. Oliver brushed away two or threetears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board but the table,fortunately bowed to that.

“What’s your name, boy?” said the gentleman in the highchair.

Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which made himtremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which made him cry. Thesetwo causes made him answer in a very low and hesitating voice; whereupon agentleman in a white waistcoat said he was a fool. Which was a capital way ofraising his spirits, and putting him quite at his ease.

“Boy,” said the gentleman in the high chair, “listen to me.You know you’re an orphan, I suppose?”

“What’s that, sir?” inquired poor Oliver.

“The boy is a fool—I thought he was,” said thegentleman in the white waistcoat.

“Hush!” said the gentleman who had spoken first. “You knowyou’ve got no father or mother, and that you were brought up by theparish, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver, weeping bitterly.

“What are you crying for?” inquired the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat. And to be sure it was very extraordinary. What could the boybe crying for?

“I hope you say your prayers every night,” said another gentlemanin a gruff voice; “and pray for the people who feed you, and take care ofyou—like a Christian.”

“Yes, sir,” stammered the boy. The gentleman who spoke last wasunconsciously right. It would have been very like a Christian, and amarvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for the people who fedand took care of him. But he hadn’t, because nobody had taughthim.

“Well! You have come here to be educated, and taught a usefultrade,” said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair.

“So you’ll begin to pick oakum to-morrow morning at sixo’clock,” added the surly one in the white waistcoat.

For the combination of both these blessings in the one simple process ofpicking oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction of the beadle, and was thenhurried away to a large ward; where, on a rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself tosleep. What a novel illustration of the tender laws of England! They let thepaupers go to sleep!

Poor Oliver! He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happy unconsciousness ofall around him, that the board had that very day arrived at a decision whichwould exercise the most material influence over all his future fortunes. Butthey had. And this was it:

The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and whenthey came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out at once,what ordinary folks would never have discovered—the poor people liked it!It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavernwhere there was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper allthe year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work.“Oho!” said the board, looking very knowing; “we are thefellows to set this to rights; we’ll stop it all, in no time.” So,they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative(for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual processin the house, or by a quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted withthe water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factorto supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals ofthin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll of Sundays. Theymade a great many other wise and humane regulations, having reference to theladies, which it is not necessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce poormarried people, in consequence of the great expense of a suit in Doctors’Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to support his family, as they hadtheretofore done, took his family away from him, and made him a bachelor! Thereis no saying how many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, mighthave started up in all classes of society, if it had not been coupled with theworkhouse; but the board were long-headed men, and had provided for thisdifficulty. The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; andthat frightened people.

For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the system was in fulloperation. It was rather expensive at first, in consequence of the increase inthe undertaker’s bill, and the necessity of taking in the clothes of allthe paupers, which fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after aweek or two’s gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as wellas the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies.

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper atone end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, andassisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festivecomposition each boy had one porringer, and no more—except on occasionsof great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of breadbesides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons tillthey shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never tookvery long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sitstaring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured thevery bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, insucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any straysplashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generallyexcellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures ofslow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild withhunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used tothat sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darklyto his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he wasafraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, whohappened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; andthey implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who shouldwalk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fellto Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in hiscook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistantsranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace wassaid over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered eachother, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as hewas, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from thetable; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhatalarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed instupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung forsupport to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys withfear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him inhis arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the roomin great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said,

“Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked formore!”

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

“For more!” said Mr. Limbkins. “Compose yourself,Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, afterhe had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?”

“He did, sir,” replied Bumble.

“That boy will be hung,” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.“I know that boy will be hung.”

Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman’s opinion. An animateddiscussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a billwas next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of fivepounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. Inother words, five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman whowanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.

“I never was more convinced of anything in my life,” said thegentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and read the billnext morning: “I never was more convinced of anything in my life, than Iam that that boy will come to be hung.”

As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoated gentleman wasright or not, I should perhaps mar the interest of this narrative (supposing itto possess any at all), if I ventured to hint just yet, whether the life ofOliver Twist had this violent termination or no.

For a week after the commission of the impious and profane offence of askingfor more, Oliver remained a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room towhich he had been consigned by the wisdom and mercy of the board. It appears,at first sight not unreasonable to suppose, that, if he had entertained abecoming feeling of respect for the prediction of the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat, he would have established that sage individual’s propheticcharacter, once and for ever, by tying one end of his pocket-handkerchief to ahook in the wall, and attaching himself to the other. To the performance ofthis feat, however, there was one obstacle: namely, that pocket-handkerchiefsbeing decided articles of luxury, had been, for all future times and ages,removed from the noses of paupers by the express order of the board, in councilassembled: solemnly given and pronounced under their hands and seals. There wasa still greater obstacle in Oliver’s youth and childishness. He onlycried bitterly all day; and, when the long, dismal night came on, spread hislittle hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in thecorner, tried to sleep: ever and anon waking with a start and tremble, anddrawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hardsurface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him.

Let it not be supposed by the enemies of “the system,” that, duringthe period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was denied the benefit ofexercise, the pleasure of society, or the advantages of religious consolation.As for exercise, it was nice cold weather, and he was allowed to perform hisablutions every morning under the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of Mr.Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a tingling sensation topervade his frame, by repeated applications of the cane. As for society, he wascarried every other day into the hall where the boys dined, and there sociablyflogged as a public warning and example. And so far from being denied theadvantages of religious consolation, he was kicked into the same apartmentevery evening at prayer-time, and there permitted to listen to, and console hismind with, a general supplication of the boys, containing a special clause,therein inserted by authority of the board, in which they entreated to be madegood, virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from the sins andvices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly set forth to be underthe exclusive patronage and protection of the powers of wickedness, and anarticle direct from the manufactory of the very Devil himself.

It chanced one morning, while Oliver’s affairs were in this auspiciousand comfortable state, that Mr. Gamfield, chimney-sweep, went his way down theHigh Street, deeply cogitating in his mind his ways and means of paying certainarrears of rent, for which his landlord had become rather pressing. Mr.Gamfield’s most sanguine estimate of his finances could not raise themwithin full five pounds of the desired amount; and, in a species ofarithmetical desperation, he was alternately cudgelling his brains and hisdonkey, when passing the workhouse, his eyes encountered the bill on the gate.

“Wo—o!” said Mr. Gamfield to the donkey.

The donkey was in a state of profound abstraction: wondering, probably, whetherhe was destined to be regaled with a cabbage-stalk or two when he had disposedof the two sacks of soot with which the little cart was laden; so, withoutnoticing the word of command, he jogged onward.

Mr. Gamfield growled a fierce imprecation on the donkey generally, but moreparticularly on his eyes; and, running after him, bestowed a blow on his head,which would inevitably have beaten in any skull but a donkey’s. Then,catching hold of the bridle, he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentlereminder that he was not his own master; and by these means turned him round.He then gave him another blow on the head, just to stun him till he came backagain. Having completed these arrangements, he walked up to the gate, to readthe bill.

The gentleman with the white waistcoat was standing at the gate with his handsbehind him, after having delivered himself of some profound sentiments in theboard-room. Having witnessed the little dispute between Mr. Gamfield and thedonkey, he smiled joyously when that person came up to read the bill, for hesaw at once that Mr. Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver Twistwanted. Mr. Gamfield smiled, too, as he perused the document; for five poundswas just the sum he had been wishing for; and, as to the boy with which it wasencumbered, Mr. Gamfield, knowing what the dietary of the workhouse was, wellknew he would be a nice small pattern, just the very thing for register stoves.So, he spelt the bill through again, from beginning to end; and then, touchinghis fur cap in token of humility, accosted the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat.

“This here boy, sir, wot the parish wants to ’prentis,” saidMr. Gamfield.

“Ay, my man,” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, with acondescending smile. “What of him?”

“If the parish vould like him to learn a right pleasant trade, in a good’spectable chimbley-sweepin’ bisness,” said Mr. Gamfield,“I wants a ’prentis, and I am ready to take him.”

“Walk in,” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr. Gamfieldhaving lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow on the head, andanother wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to run away in his absence,followed the gentleman with the white waistcoat into the room where Oliver hadfirst seen him.

“It’s a nasty trade,” said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield hadagain stated his wish.

“Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,” saidanother gentleman.

“That’s acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in thechimbley to make ’em come down again,” said Gamfield;“that’s all smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain’t o’no use at all in making a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, andthat’s wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy,Gen’l’men, and there’s nothink like a good hot blaze to make’em come down vith a run. It’s humane too, gen’l’men,acause, even if they’ve stuck in the chimbley, roasting their feet makes’em struggle to hextricate theirselves.”

The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by thisexplanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look from Mr. Limbkins.The board then proceeded to converse among themselves for a few minutes, but inso low a tone, that the words “saving of expenditure,”“looked well in the accounts,” “have a printed reportpublished,” were alone audible. These only chanced to be heard, indeed,or account of their being very frequently repeated with great emphasis.

At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board, having resumedtheir seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins said:

“We have considered your proposition, and we don’t approve ofit.”

“Not at all,” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

“Decidedly not,” added the other members.

As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation of havingbruised three or four boys to death already, it occurred to him that the boardhad, perhaps, in some unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that thisextraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings. It was veryunlike their general mode of doing business, if they had; but still, as he hadno particular wish to revive the rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, andwalked slowly from the table.

“So you won’t let me have him, gen’l’men?” saidMr. Gamfield, pausing near the door.

“No,” replied Mr. Limbkins; “at least, as it’s a nastybusiness, we think you ought to take something less than the premium weoffered.”

Mr. Gamfield’s countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he returnedto the table, and said,

“What’ll you give, gen’l’men? Come! Don’t be toohard on a poor man. What’ll you give?”

“I should say, three pound ten was plenty,” said Mr. Limbkins.

“Ten shillings too much,” said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat.

“Come!” said Gamfield; “say four pound,gen’l’men. Say four pound, and you’ve got rid of him for goodand all. There!”

“Three pound ten,” repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.

“Come! I’ll split the diff’erence,gen’l’men,” urged Gamfield. “Three poundfifteen.”

“Not a farthing more,” was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.

“You’re desperate hard upon me, gen’l’men,” saidGamfield, wavering.

“Pooh! pooh! nonsense!” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.“He’d be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium. Take him, yousilly fellow! He’s just the boy for you. He wants the stick, now andthen: it’ll do him good; and his board needn’t come very expensive,for he hasn’t been overfed since he was born. Ha! ha! ha!”

Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table, and, observing asmile on all of them, gradually broke into a smile himself. The bargain wasmade. Mr. Bumble, was at once instructed that Oliver Twist and his indentureswere to be conveyed before the magistrate, for signature and approval, thatvery afternoon.

In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his excessiveastonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to put himself into aclean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very unusual gymnastic performance,when Mr. Bumble brought him, with his own hands, a basin of gruel, and theholiday allowance of two ounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendoussight, Oliver began to cry very piteously: thinking, not unnaturally, that theboard must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose, or they neverwould have begun to fatten him up in that way.

“Don’t make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and bethankful,” said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity.“You’re a going to be made a ’prentice of, Oliver.”

“A prentice, sir!” said the child, trembling.

“Yes, Oliver,” said Mr. Bumble. “The kind and blessedgentleman which is so many parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of yourown: are a going to “prentice” you: and to set you up in life, andmake a man of you: although the expense to the parish is three poundten!—three pound ten, Oliver!—seventy shillins—one hundredand forty sixpences!—and all for a naughty orphan which nobodycan’t love.”

As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this address in an awfulvoice, the tears rolled down the poor child’s face, and he sobbedbitterly.

“Come,” said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it wasgratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence had produced;“Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of your jacket, anddon’t cry into your gruel; that’s a very foolish action,Oliver.” It certainly was, for there was quite enough water in italready.

On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that all he wouldhave to do, would be to look very happy, and say, when the gentleman asked himif he wanted to be apprenticed, that he should like it very much indeed; bothof which injunctions Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw ina gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no tellingwhat would be done to him. When they arrived at the office, he was shut up in alittle room by himself, and admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay there, until hecame back to fetch him.

There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an hour. At theexpiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his head, unadorned with thecocked hat, and said aloud:

“Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.” As Mr. Bumble saidthis, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a low voice,“Mind what I told you, you young rascal!”

Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble’s face at this somewhatcontradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his offering anyremark thereupon, by leading him at once into an adjoining room: the door ofwhich was open. It was a large room, with a great window. Behind a desk, sattwo old gentleman with powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper;while the other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shellspectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr. Limbkins wasstanding in front of the desk on one side; and Mr. Gamfield, with a partiallywashed face, on the other; while two or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots,were lounging about.

The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over the little bitof parchment; and there was a short pause, after Oliver had been stationed byMr. Bumble in front of the desk.

“This is the boy, your worship,” said Mr. Bumble.

The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his head for a moment,and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve; whereupon, the last-mentionedold gentleman woke up.

“Oh, is this the boy?” said the old gentleman.

“This is him, sir,” replied Mr. Bumble. “Bow to themagistrate, my dear.”

Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been wondering, withhis eyes fixed on the magistrates’ powder, whether all boards were bornwith that white stuff on their heads, and were boards from thenceforth on thataccount.

“Well,” said the old gentleman, “I suppose he’s fond ofchimney-sweeping?”

“He doats on it, your worship,” replied Bumble; giving Oliver a slypinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn’t.

“And he will be a sweep, will he?” inquired the oldgentleman.

“If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he’d run awaysimultaneous, your worship,” replied Bumble.

“And this man that’s to be his master—you,sir—you’ll treat him well, and feed him, and do all that sort ofthing, will you?” said the old gentleman.

“When I says I will, I means I will,” replied Mr. Gamfielddoggedly.

“You’re a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest,open-hearted man,” said the old gentleman: turning his spectacles in thedirection of the candidate for Oliver’s premium, whose villainouscountenance was a regular stamped receipt for cruelty. But the magistrate washalf blind and half childish, so he couldn’t reasonably be expected todiscern what other people did.

“I hope I am, sir,” said Mr. Gamfield, with an ugly leer.

“I have no doubt you are, my friend,” replied the old gentleman:fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking about him for theinkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver’s fate. If the inkstand had beenwhere the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it,and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have been straightway hurried off.But, as it chanced to be immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matterof course, that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; andhappening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gazeencountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who, despite all theadmonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenanceof his future master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, toopalpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from Oliver to Mr.Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

“My boy!” said the old gentleman, “you look pale and alarmed.What is the matter?”

“Stand a little away from him, Beadle,” said the other magistrate:laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an expression of interest.“Now, boy, tell us what’s the matter: don’t be afraid.”

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that theywould order him back to the dark room—that they would starvehim—beat him—kill him if they pleased—rather than send himaway with that dreadful man.

“Well!” said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with mostimpressive solemnity. “Well! of all the artful and designing orphans thatever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest.”

“Hold your tongue, Beadle,” said the second old gentleman, when Mr.Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.

“I beg your worship’s pardon,” said Mr. Bumble, incredulousof having heard aright. “Did your worship speak to me?”

“Yes. Hold your tongue.”

Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered to hold histongue! A moral revolution!

The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at his companion, henodded significantly.

“We refuse to sanction these indentures,” said the old gentleman:tossing aside the piece of parchment as he spoke.

“I hope,” stammered Mr. Limbkins: “I hope the magistrateswill not form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of any improperconduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.”

“The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion on thematter,” said the second old gentleman sharply. “Take the boy backto the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems to want it.”

That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat most positively anddecidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would be hung, but that he would bedrawn and quartered into the bargain. Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomymystery, and said he wished he might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfieldreplied, that he wished he might come to him; which, although he agreed withthe beadle in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totally oppositedescription.

The next morning, the public were once informed that Oliver Twist was again ToLet, and that five pounds would be paid to anybody who would take possession ofhim.

In great families, when an advantageous place cannot be obtained, either inpossession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, for the young man who isgrowing up, it is a very general custom to send him to sea. The board, inimitation of so wise and salutary an example, took counsel together on theexpediency of shipping off Oliver Twist, in some small trading vessel bound toa good unhealthy port. This suggested itself as the very best thing that couldpossibly be done with him: the probability being, that the skipper would floghim to death, in a playful mood, some day after dinner, or would knock hisbrains out with an iron bar; both pastimes being, as is pretty generally known,very favourite and common recreations among gentleman of that class. The morethe case presented itself to the board, in this point of view, the moremanifold the advantages of the step appeared; so, they came to the conclusionthat the only way of providing for Oliver effectually, was to send him to seawithout delay.

Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminary inquiries, with theview of finding out some captain or other who wanted a cabin-boy without anyfriends; and was returning to the workhouse to communicate the result of hismission; when he encountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry,the parochial undertaker.

Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit ofthreadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes toanswer. His features were not naturally intended to wear a smiling aspect, buthe was in general rather given to professional jocosity. His step was elastic,and his face betokened inward pleasantry, as he advanced to Mr. Bumble, andshook him cordially by the hand.

“I have taken the measure of the two women that died last night, Mr.Bumble,” said the undertaker.

“You’ll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,” said the beadle,as he thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box of theundertaker: which was an ingenious little model of a patent coffin. “Isay you’ll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,” repeated Mr. Bumble,tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in a friendly manner, with his cane.

“Think so?” said the undertaker in a tone which half admitted andhalf disputed the probability of the event. “The prices allowed by theboard are very small, Mr. Bumble.”

“So are the coffins,” replied the beadle: with precisely as near anapproach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge in.

Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he ought to be; andlaughed a long time without cessation. “Well, well, Mr. Bumble,” hesaid at length, “there’s no denying that, since the new system offeeding has come in, the coffins are something narrower and more shallow thanthey used to be; but we must have some profit, Mr. Bumble. Well-seasoned timberis an expensive article, sir; and all the iron handles come, by canal, fromBirmingham.”

“Well, well,” said Mr. Bumble, “every trade has itsdrawbacks. A fair profit is, of course, allowable.”

“Of course, of course,” replied the undertaker; “and if Idon’t get a profit upon this or that particular article, why, I make itup in the long-run, you see—he! he! he!”

“Just so,” said Mr. Bumble.

“Though I must say,” continued the undertaker, resuming the currentof observations which the beadle had interrupted: “though I must say, Mr.Bumble, that I have to contend against one very great disadvantage: which is,that all the stout people go off the quickest. The people who have been betteroff, and have paid rates for many years, are the first to sink when they comeinto the house; and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three or four inches overone’s calculation makes a great hole in one’s profits: especiallywhen one has a family to provide for, sir.”

As Mr. Sowerberry said this, with the becoming indignation of an ill-used man;and as Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended to convey a reflection on thehonour of the parish; the latter gentleman thought it advisable to change thesubject. Oliver Twist being uppermost in his mind, he made him his theme.

“By the bye,” said Mr. Bumble, “you don’t know anybodywho wants a boy, do you? A porochial ’prentis, who is at present adead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat? Liberalterms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?” As Mr. Bumble spoke, he raised hiscane to the bill above him, and gave three distinct raps upon the words“five pounds”: which were printed thereon in Roman capitals ofgigantic size.

“Gadso!” said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edgedlappel of his official coat; “that’s just the very thing I wantedto speak to you about. You know—dear me, what a very elegant button thisis, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before.”

“Yes, I think it rather pretty,” said the beadle, glancing proudlydownwards at the large brass buttons which embellished his coat. “The dieis the same as the porochial seal—the Good Samaritan healing the sick andbruised man. The board presented it to me on Newyear’s morning, Mr.Sowerberry. I put it on, I remember, for the first time, to attend the inqueston that reduced tradesman, who died in a doorway at midnight.”

“I recollect,” said the undertaker. “The jury brought it in,‘Died from exposure to the cold, and want of the common necessaries oflife,’ didn’t they?”

Mr. Bumble nodded.

“And they made it a special verdict, I think,” said the undertaker,“by adding some words to the effect, that if the relieving officerhad—”

“Tush! Foolery!” interposed the beadle. “If the boardattended to all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they’d haveenough to do.”

“Very true,” said the undertaker; “they would indeed.”

“Juries,” said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was hiswont when working into a passion: “juries is ineddicated, vulgar,grovelling wretches.”

“So they are,” said the undertaker.

“They haven’t no more philosophy nor political economy about’em than that,” said the beadle, snapping his fingerscontemptuously.

“No more they have,” acquiesced the undertaker.

“I despise ’em,” said the beadle, growing very red in theface.

“So do I,” rejoined the undertaker.

“And I only wish we’d a jury of the independent sort, in the housefor a week or two,” said the beadle; “the rules and regulations ofthe board would soon bring their spirit down for ’em.”

“Let ’em alone for that,” replied the undertaker. So saying,he smiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignant parishofficer.

Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat; took a handkerchief from the inside of thecrown; wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his rage had engendered;fixed the cocked hat on again; and, turning to the undertaker, said in a calmervoice:

“Well; what about the boy?”

“Oh!” replied the undertaker; “why, you know, Mr. Bumble, Ipay a good deal towards the poor’s rates.”

“Hem!” said Mr. Bumble. “Well?”

“Well,” replied the undertaker, “I was thinking that if I payso much towards ’em, I’ve a right to get as much out of ’emas I can, Mr. Bumble; and so—I think I’ll take the boymyself.”

Mr. Bumble grasped the undertaker by the arm, and led him into the building.Mr. Sowerberry was closeted with the board for five minutes; and it wasarranged that Oliver should go to him that evening “uponliking”—a phrase which means, in the case of a parish apprentice,that if the master find, upon a short trial, that he can get enough work out ofa boy without putting too much food into him, he shall have him for a term ofyears, to do what he likes with.

When little Oliver was taken before “the gentlemen” that evening;and informed that he was to go, that night, as general house-lad to acoffin-maker’s; and that if he complained of his situation, or ever cameback to the parish again, he would be sent to sea, there to be drowned, orknocked on the head, as the case might be, he evinced so little emotion, thatthey by common consent pronounced him a hardened young rascal, and ordered Mr.Bumble to remove him forthwith.

Now, although it was very natural that the board, of all people in the world,should feel in a great state of virtuous astonishment and horror at thesmallest tokens of want of feeling on the part of anybody, they were ratherout, in this particular instance. The simple fact was, that Oliver, instead ofpossessing too little feeling, possessed rather too much; and was in a fair wayof being reduced, for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness bythe ill usage he had received. He heard the news of his destination, in perfectsilence; and, having had his luggage put into his hand—which was not verydifficult to carry, inasmuch as it was all comprised within the limits of abrown paper parcel, about half a foot square by three inches deep—hepulled his cap over his eyes; and once more attaching himself to Mr.Bumble’s coat cuff, was led away by that dignitary to a new scene ofsuffering.

For some time, Mr. Bumble drew Oliver along, without notice or remark; for thebeadle carried his head very erect, as a beadle always should: and, it being awindy day, little Oliver was completely enshrouded by the skirts of Mr.Bumble’s coat as they blew open, and disclosed to great advantage hisflapped waistcoat and drab plush knee-breeches. As they drew near to theirdestination, however, Mr. Bumble thought it expedient to look down, and seethat the boy was in good order for inspection by his new master: which heaccordingly did, with a fit and becoming air of gracious patronage.

“Oliver!” said Mr. Bumble.

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver, in a low, tremulous voice.

“Pull that cap off your eyes, and hold up your head, sir.”

Although Oliver did as he was desired, at once; and passed the back of hisunoccupied hand briskly across his eyes, he left a tear in them when he lookedup at his conductor. As Mr. Bumble gazed sternly upon him, it rolled down hischeek. It was followed by another, and another. The child made a strong effort,but it was an unsuccessful one. Withdrawing his other hand from Mr.Bumble’s he covered his face with both; and wept until the tears sprungout from between his chin and bony fingers.

“Well!” exclaimed Mr. Bumble, stopping short, and darting at hislittle charge a look of intense malignity. “Well! Of all theungratefullest, and worst-disposed boys as ever I see, Oliver, you arethe—”

“No, no, sir,” sobbed Oliver, clinging to the hand which held thewell-known cane; “no, no, sir; I will be good indeed; indeed, indeed Iwill, sir! I am a very little boy, sir; and it is so—so—”

“So what?” inquired Mr. Bumble in amazement.

“So lonely, sir! So very lonely!” cried the child. “Everybodyhates me. Oh! sir, don’t, don’t pray be cross to me!” Thechild beat his hand upon his heart; and looked in his companion’s face,with tears of real agony.

Mr. Bumble regarded Oliver’s piteous and helpless look, with someastonishment, for a few seconds; hemmed three or four times in a husky manner;and after muttering something about “that troublesome cough,” badeOliver dry his eyes and be a good boy. Then once more taking his hand, hewalked on with him in silence.

The undertaker, who had just put up the shutters of his shop, was making someentries in his day-book by the light of a most appropriate dismal candle, whenMr. Bumble entered.

“Aha!” said the undertaker; looking up from the book, and pausingin the middle of a word; “is that you, Bumble?”

“No one else, Mr. Sowerberry,” replied the beadle. “Here!I’ve brought the boy.” Oliver made a bow.

“Oh! that’s the boy, is it?” said the undertaker: raising thecandle above his head, to get a better view of Oliver. “Mrs. Sowerberry,will you have the goodness to come here a moment, my dear?”

Mrs. Sowerberry emerged from a little room behind the shop, and presented theform of a short, thin, squeezed-up woman, with a vixenish countenance.

“My dear,” said Mr. Sowerberry, deferentially, “this is theboy from the workhouse that I told you of.” Oliver bowed again.

“Dear me!” said the undertaker’s wife, “he’s verysmall.”

“Why, he is rather small,” replied Mr. Bumble: looking atOliver as if it were his fault that he was no bigger; “he is small.There’s no denying it. But he’ll grow, Mrs.Sowerberry—he’ll grow.”

“Ah! I dare say he will,” replied the lady pettishly, “on ourvictuals and our drink. I see no saving in parish children, not I; for theyalways cost more to keep, than they’re worth. However, men always thinkthey know best. There! Get downstairs, little bag o’ bones.” Withthis, the undertaker’s wife opened a side door, and pushed Oliver down asteep flight of stairs into a stone cell, damp and dark: forming the ante-roomto the coal-cellar, and denominated “kitchen”; wherein sat aslatternly girl, in shoes down at heel, and blue worsted stockings very muchout of repair.

“Here, Charlotte,” said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliverdown, “give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for Trip. Hehasn’t come home since the morning, so he may go without ’em. Idare say the boy isn’t too dainty to eat ’em—are you,boy?”

Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was tremblingwith eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful of coarsebroken victuals was set before him.

I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him;whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutchingat the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessedthe horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all theferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and thatwould be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with thesame relish.

“Well,” said the undertaker’s wife, when Oliver had finishedhis supper: which she had regarded in silent horror, and with fearful auguriesof his future appetite: “have you done?”

There being nothing eatable within his reach, Oliver replied in theaffirmative.

“Then come with me,” said Mrs. Sowerberry: taking up a dim anddirty lamp, and leading the way upstairs; “your bed’s under thecounter. You don’t mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But itdoesn’t much matter whether you do or don’t, for you can’tsleep anywhere else. Come; don’t keep me here all night!”

Oliver lingered no longer, but meekly followed his new mistress.

Oliver, being left to himself in the undertaker’s shop, set the lamp downon a workman’s bench, and gazed timidly about him with a feeling of aweand dread, which many people a good deal older than he will be at no loss tounderstand. An unfinished coffin on black tressels, which stood in the middleof the shop, looked so gloomy and death-like that a cold tremble came over him,every time his eyes wandered in the direction of the dismal object: from whichhe almost expected to see some frightful form slowly rear its head, to drivehim mad with terror. Against the wall were ranged, in regular array, a long rowof elm boards cut in the same shape: looking in the dim light, likehigh-shouldered ghosts with their hands in their breeches pockets.Coffin-plates, elm-chips, bright-headed nails, and shreds of black cloth, layscattered on the floor; and the wall behind the counter was ornamented with alively representation of two mutes in very stiff neckcloths, on duty at a largeprivate door, with a hearse drawn by four black steeds, approaching in thedistance. The shop was close and hot. The atmosphere seemed tainted with thesmell of coffins. The recess beneath the counter in which his flock mattresswas thrust, looked like a grave.

Nor were these the only dismal feelings which depressed Oliver. He was alone ina strange place; and we all know how chilled and desolate the best of us willsometimes feel in such a situation. The boy had no friends to care for, or tocare for him. The regret of no recent separation was fresh in his mind; theabsence of no loved and well-remembered face sank heavily into his heart.

But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept into hisnarrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be lain in a calm andlasting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the tall grass waving gently abovehis head, and the sound of the old deep bell to soothe him in his sleep.

Oliver was awakened in the morning, by a loud kicking at the outside of theshop-door: which, before he could huddle on his clothes, was repeated, in anangry and impetuous manner, about twenty-five times. When he began to undo thechain, the legs desisted, and a voice began.

“Open the door, will yer?” cried the voice which belonged to thelegs which had kicked at the door.

“I will, directly, sir,” replied Oliver: undoing the chain, andturning the key.

“I suppose yer the new boy, ain’t yer?” said the voicethrough the key-hole.

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver.

“How old are yer?” inquired the voice.

“Ten, sir,” replied Oliver.

“Then I’ll whop yer when I get in,” said the voice;“you just see if I don’t, that’s all, my work’usbrat!” and having made this obliging promise, the voice began to whistle.

Oliver had been too often subjected to the process to which the very expressivemonosyllable just recorded bears reference, to entertain the smallest doubtthat the owner of the voice, whoever he might be, would redeem his pledge, mosthonourably. He drew back the bolts with a trembling hand, and opened the door.

For a second or two, Oliver glanced up the street, and down the street, andover the way: impressed with the belief that the unknown, who had addressed himthrough the key-hole, had walked a few paces off, to warm himself; for nobodydid he see but a big charity-boy, sitting on a post in front of the house,eating a slice of bread and butter: which he cut into wedges, the size of hismouth, with a clasp-knife, and then consumed with great dexterity.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Oliver at length: seeing that noother visitor made his appearance; “did you knock?”

“I kicked,” replied the charity-boy.

“Did you want a coffin, sir?” inquired Oliver, innocently.

At this, the charity-boy looked monstrous fierce; and said that Oliver wouldwant one before long, if he cut jokes with his superiors in that way.

“Yer don’t know who I am, I suppose, Work’us?” said thecharity-boy, in continuation: descending from the top of the post, meanwhile,with edifying gravity.

“No, sir,” rejoined Oliver.

“I’m Mister Noah Claypole,” said the charity-boy, “andyou’re under me. Take down the shutters, yer idle young ruffian!”With this, Mr. Claypole administered a kick to Oliver, and entered the shopwith a dignified air, which did him great credit. It is difficult for alarge-headed, small-eyed youth, of lumbering make and heavy countenance, tolook dignified under any circumstances; but it is more especially so, whensuperadded to these personal attractions are a red nose and yellow smalls.

Oliver, having taken down the shutters, and broken a pane of glass in hiseffort to stagger away beneath the weight of the first one to a small court atthe side of the house in which they were kept during the day, was graciouslyassisted by Noah: who having consoled him with the assurance that“he’d catch it,” condescended to help him. Mr. Sowerberrycame down soon after. Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Sowerberry appeared. Oliverhaving “caught it,” in fulfilment of Noah’s prediction,followed that young gentleman down the stairs to breakfast.

“Come near the fire, Noah,” said Charlotte. “I saved a nicelittle bit of bacon for you from master’s breakfast. Oliver, shut thatdoor at Mister Noah’s back, and take them bits that I’ve put out onthe cover of the bread-pan. There’s your tea; take it away to that box,and drink it there, and make haste, for they’ll want you to mind theshop. D’ye hear?”

“D’ye hear, Work’us?” said Noah Claypole.

“Lor, Noah!” said Charlotte, “what a rum creature you are!Why don’t you let the boy alone?”

“Let him alone!” said Noah. “Why everybody lets him aloneenough, for the matter of that. Neither his father nor his mother will everinterfere with him. All his relations let him have his own way pretty well. Eh,Charlotte? He! he! he!”

“Oh, you queer soul!” said Charlotte, bursting into a hearty laugh,in which she was joined by Noah; after which they both looked scornfully atpoor Oliver Twist, as he sat shivering on the box in the coldest corner of theroom, and ate the stale pieces which had been specially reserved for him.

Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No chance-child was he, forhe could trace his genealogy all the way back to his parents, who lived hardby; his mother being a washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier,discharged with a wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny andan unstateable fraction. The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been inthe habit of branding Noah in the public streets, with the ignominious epithetsof “leathers,” “charity,” and the like; and Noah hadbourne them without reply. But, now that fortune had cast in his way a namelessorphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retortedon him with interest. This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows uswhat a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially thesame amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiestcharity-boy.

Oliver had been sojourning at the undertaker’s some three weeks or amonth. Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry—the shop being shut up—were takingtheir supper in the little back-parlour, when Mr. Sowerberry, after severaldeferential glances at his wife, said,

“My dear—” He was going to say more; but, Mrs. Sowerberrylooking up, with a peculiarly unpropitious aspect, he stopped short.

“Well,” said Mrs. Sowerberry, sharply.

“Nothing, my dear, nothing,” said Mr. Sowerberry.

“Ugh, you brute!” said Mrs. Sowerberry.

“Not at all, my dear,” said Mr. Sowerberry humbly. “I thoughtyou didn’t want to hear, my dear. I was only going to say—”

“Oh, don’t tell me what you were going to say,” interposedMrs. Sowerberry. “I am nobody; don’t consult me, pray. Idon’t want to intrude upon your secrets.” As Mrs. Sowerberry saidthis, she gave an hysterical laugh, which threatened violent consequences.

“But, my dear,” said Sowerberry, “I want to ask youradvice.”

“No, no, don’t ask mine,” replied Mrs. Sowerberry, in anaffecting manner: “ask somebody else’s.” Here, there wasanother hysterical laugh, which frightened Mr. Sowerberry very much. This is avery common and much-approved matrimonial course of treatment, which is oftenvery effective. It at once reduced Mr. Sowerberry to begging, as a specialfavour, to be allowed to say what Mrs. Sowerberry was most curious to hear.After a short duration, the permission was most graciously conceded.

“It’s only about young Twist, my dear,” said Mr. Sowerberry.“A very good-looking boy, that, my dear.”

“He need be, for he eats enough,” observed the lady.

“There’s an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear,”resumed Mr. Sowerberry, “which is very interesting. He would make adelightful mute, my love.”

Mrs. Sowerberry looked up with an expression of considerable wonderment. Mr.Sowerberry remarked it and, without allowing time for any observation on thegood lady’s part, proceeded.

“I don’t mean a regular mute to attend grown-up people, my dear,but only for children’s practice. It would be very new to have a mute inproportion, my dear. You may depend upon it, it would have a superbeffect.”

Mrs. Sowerberry, who had a good deal of taste in the undertaking way, was muchstruck by the novelty of this idea; but, as it would have been compromising herdignity to have said so, under existing circumstances, she merely inquired,with much sharpness, why such an obvious suggestion had not presented itself toher husband’s mind before? Mr. Sowerberry rightly construed this, as anacquiescence in his proposition; it was speedily determined, therefore, thatOliver should be at once initiated into the mysteries of the trade; and, withthis view, that he should accompany his master on the very next occasion of hisservices being required.

The occasion was not long in coming. Half an hour after breakfast next morning,Mr. Bumble entered the shop; and supporting his cane against the counter, drewforth his large leathern pocket-book: from which he selected a small scrap ofpaper, which he handed over to Sowerberry.

“Aha!” said the undertaker, glancing over it with a livelycountenance; “an order for a coffin, eh?”

“For a coffin first, and a porochial funeral afterwards,” repliedMr. Bumble, fastening the strap of the leathern pocket-book: which, likehimself, was very corpulent.

“Bayton,” said the undertaker, looking from the scrap of paper toMr. Bumble. “I never heard the name before.”

Bumble shook his head, as he replied, “Obstinate people, Mr. Sowerberry;very obstinate. Proud, too, I’m afraid, sir.”

“Proud, eh?” exclaimed Mr. Sowerberry with a sneer. “Come,that’s too much.”

“Oh, it’s sickening,” replied the beadle. “Antimonial,Mr. Sowerberry!”

“So it is,” acquiesced the undertaker.

“We only heard of the family the night before last,” said thebeadle; “and we shouldn’t have known anything about them, then,only a woman who lodges in the same house made an application to the porochialcommittee for them to send the porochial surgeon to see a woman as was verybad. He had gone out to dinner; but his ’prentice (which is a very cleverlad) sent ’em some medicine in a blacking-bottle, offhand.”

“Ah, there’s promptness,” said the undertaker.

“Promptness, indeed!” replied the beadle. “But what’sthe consequence; what’s the ungrateful behaviour of these rebels, sir?Why, the husband sends back word that the medicine won’t suit hiswife’s complaint, and so she shan’t take it—says sheshan’t take it, sir! Good, strong, wholesome medicine, as was given withgreat success to two Irish labourers and a coal-heaver, only a weekbefore—sent ’em for nothing, with a blackin’-bottlein,—and he sends back word that she shan’t take it, sir!”

As the atrocity presented itself to Mr. Bumble’s mind in full force, hestruck the counter sharply with his cane, and became flushed with indignation.

“Well,” said the undertaker, “Ine—ver—did—”

“Never did, sir!” ejaculated the beadle. “No, nor nobodynever did; but now she’s dead, we’ve got to bury her; andthat’s the direction; and the sooner it’s done, the better.”

Thus saying, Mr. Bumble put on his cocked hat wrong side first, in a fever ofparochial excitement; and flounced out of the shop.

“Why, he was so angry, Oliver, that he forgot even to ask afteryou!” said Mr. Sowerberry, looking after the beadle as he strode down thestreet.

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver, who had carefully kept himself out ofsight, during the interview; and who was shaking from head to foot at the mererecollection of the sound of Mr. Bumble’s voice.

He needn’t haven taken the trouble to shrink from Mr. Bumble’sglance, however; for that functionary, on whom the prediction of the gentlemanin the white waistcoat had made a very strong impression, thought that now theundertaker had got Oliver upon trial the subject was better avoided, until suchtime as he should be firmly bound for seven years, and all danger of his beingreturned upon the hands of the parish should be thus effectually and legallyovercome.

“Well,” said Mr. Sowerberry, taking up his hat, “the soonerthis job is done, the better. Noah, look after the shop. Oliver, put on yourcap, and come with me.” Oliver obeyed, and followed his master on hisprofessional mission.

They walked on, for some time, through the most crowded and densely inhabitedpart of the town; and then, striking down a narrow street more dirty andmiserable than any they had yet passed through, paused to look for the housewhich was the object of their search. The houses on either side were high andlarge, but very old, and tenanted by people of the poorest class: as theirneglected appearance would have sufficiently denoted, without the concurrenttestimony afforded by the squalid looks of the few men and women who, withfolded arms and bodies half doubled, occasionally skulked along. A great manyof the tenements had shop-fronts; but these were fast closed, and moulderingaway; only the upper rooms being inhabited. Some houses which had becomeinsecure from age and decay, were prevented from falling into the street, byhuge beams of wood reared against the walls, and firmly planted in the road;but even these crazy dens seemed to have been selected as the nightly haunts ofsome houseless wretches, for many of the rough boards which supplied the placeof door and window, were wrenched from their positions, to afford an aperturewide enough for the passage of a human body. The kennel was stagnant andfilthy. The very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in its rottenness,were hideous with famine.

There was neither knocker nor bell-handle at the open door where Oliver and hismaster stopped; so, groping his way cautiously through the dark passage, andbidding Oliver keep close to him and not be afraid the undertaker mounted tothe top of the first flight of stairs. Stumbling against a door on the landing,he rapped at it with his knuckles.

It was opened by a young girl of thirteen or fourteen. The undertaker at oncesaw enough of what the room contained, to know it was the apartment to which hehad been directed. He stepped in; Oliver followed him.

There was no fire in the room; but a man was crouching, mechanically, over theempty stove. An old woman, too, had drawn a low stool to the cold hearth, andwas sitting beside him. There were some ragged children in another corner; andin a small recess, opposite the door, there lay upon the ground, somethingcovered with an old blanket. Oliver shuddered as he cast his eyes toward theplace, and crept involuntarily closer to his master; for though it was coveredup, the boy felt that it was a corpse.

The man’s face was thin and very pale; his hair and beard were grizzly;his eyes were bloodshot. The old woman’s face was wrinkled; her tworemaining teeth protruded over her under lip; and her eyes were bright andpiercing. Oliver was afraid to look at either her or the man. They seemed solike the rats he had seen outside.

“Nobody shall go near her,” said the man, starting fiercely up, asthe undertaker approached the recess. “Keep back! Damn you, keep back, ifyou’ve a life to lose!”

“Nonsense, my good man,” said the undertaker, who was pretty wellused to misery in all its shapes. “Nonsense!”

“I tell you,” said the man: clenching his hands, and stampingfuriously on the floor,—“I tell you I won’t have her put intothe ground. She couldn’t rest there. The worms would worry her—noteat her—she is so worn away.”

The undertaker offered no reply to this raving; but producing a tape from hispocket, knelt down for a moment by the side of the body.

“Ah!” said the man: bursting into tears, and sinking on his kneesat the feet of the dead woman; “kneel down, kneel down—kneel roundher, every one of you, and mark my words! I say she was starved to death. Inever knew how bad she was, till the fever came upon her; and then her boneswere starting through the skin. There was neither fire nor candle; she died inthe dark—in the dark! She couldn’t even see her children’sfaces, though we heard her gasping out their names. I begged for her in thestreets: and they sent me to prison. When I came back, she was dying; and allthe blood in my heart has dried up, for they starved her to death. I swear itbefore the God that saw it! They starved her!” He twined his hands in hishair; and, with a loud scream, rolled grovelling upon the floor: his eyesfixed, and the foam covering his lips.

The terrified children cried bitterly; but the old woman, who had hithertoremained as quiet as if she had been wholly deaf to all that passed, menacedthem into silence. Having unloosened the cravat of the man who still remainedextended on the ground, she tottered towards the undertaker.

“She was my daughter,” said the old woman, nodding her head in thedirection of the corpse; and speaking with an idiotic leer, more ghastly thaneven the presence of death in such a place. “Lord, Lord! Well, itis strange that I who gave birth to her, and was a woman then, should bealive and merry now, and she lying there: so cold and stiff! Lord,Lord!—to think of it; it’s as good as a play—as good as aplay!”

As the wretched creature mumbled and chuckled in her hideous merriment, theundertaker turned to go away.

“Stop, stop!” said the old woman in a loud whisper. “Will shebe buried to-morrow, or next day, or to-night? I laid her out; and I must walk,you know. Send me a large cloak: a good warm one: for it is bitter cold. Weshould have cake and wine, too, before we go! Never mind; send somebread—only a loaf of bread and a cup of water. Shall we have some bread,dear?” she said eagerly: catching at the undertaker’s coat, as heonce more moved towards the door.

“Yes, yes,” said the undertaker,”of course. Anything youlike!” He disengaged himself from the old woman’s grasp; and,drawing Oliver after him, hurried away.

The next day, (the family having been meanwhile relieved with a half-quarternloaf and a piece of cheese, left with them by Mr. Bumble himself,) Oliver andhis master returned to the miserable abode; where Mr. Bumble had alreadyarrived, accompanied by four men from the workhouse, who were to act asbearers. An old black cloak had been thrown over the rags of the old woman andthe man; and the bare coffin having been screwed down, was hoisted on theshoulders of the bearers, and carried into the street.

“Now, you must put your best leg foremost, old lady!” whisperedSowerberry in the old woman’s ear; “we are rather late; and itwon’t do, to keep the clergyman waiting. Move on, my men,—as quickas you like!”

Thus directed, the bearers trotted on under their light burden; and the twomourners kept as near them, as they could. Mr. Bumble and Sowerberry walked ata good smart pace in front; and Oliver, whose legs were not so long as hismaster’s, ran by the side.

There was not so great a necessity for hurrying as Mr. Sowerberry hadanticipated, however; for when they reached the obscure corner of thechurchyard in which the nettles grew, and where the parish graves were made,the clergyman had not arrived; and the clerk, who was sitting by thevestry-room fire, seemed to think it by no means improbable that it might be anhour or so, before he came. So, they put the bier on the brink of the grave;and the two mourners waited patiently in the damp clay, with a cold raindrizzling down, while the ragged boys whom the spectacle had attracted into thechurchyard played a noisy game at hide-and-seek among the tombstones, or variedtheir amusements by jumping backwards and forwards over the coffin. Mr.Sowerberry and Bumble, being personal friends of the clerk, sat by the firewith him, and read the paper.

At length, after a lapse of something more than an hour, Mr. Bumble, andSowerberry, and the clerk, were seen running towards the grave. Immediatelyafterwards, the clergyman appeared: putting on his surplice as he came along.Mr. Bumble then thrashed a boy or two, to keep up appearances; and the reverendgentleman, having read as much of the burial service as could be compressedinto four minutes, gave his surplice to the clerk, and walked away again.

“Now, Bill!” said Sowerberry to the grave-digger. “Fillup!”

It was no very difficult task, for the grave was so full, that the uppermostcoffin was within a few feet of the surface. The grave-digger shovelled in theearth; stamped it loosely down with his feet: shouldered his spade; and walkedoff, followed by the boys, who murmured very loud complaints at the fun beingover so soon.

“Come, my good fellow!” said Bumble, tapping the man on the back.“They want to shut up the yard.”

The man who had never once moved, since he had taken his station by the graveside, started, raised his head, stared at the person who had addressed him,walked forward for a few paces; and fell down in a swoon. The crazy old womanwas too much occupied in bewailing the loss of her cloak (which the undertakerhad taken off), to pay him any attention; so they threw a can of cold waterover him; and when he came to, saw him safely out of the churchyard, locked thegate, and departed on their different ways.

“Well, Oliver,” said Sowerberry, as they walked home, “how doyou like it?”

“Pretty well, thank you, sir” replied Oliver, with considerablehesitation. “Not very much, sir.”

“Ah, you’ll get used to it in time, Oliver,” said Sowerberry.“Nothing when you are used to it, my boy.”

Oliver wondered, in his own mind, whether it had taken a very long time to getMr. Sowerberry used to it. But he thought it better not to ask the question;and walked back to the shop: thinking over all he had seen and heard.

The month’s trial over, Oliver was formally apprenticed. It was a nicesickly season just at this time. In commercial phrase, coffins were looking up;and, in the course of a few weeks, Oliver acquired a great deal of experience.The success of Mr. Sowerberry’s ingenious speculation, exceeded even hismost sanguine hopes. The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at whichmeasles had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence; and many werethe mournful processions which little Oliver headed, in a hat-band reachingdown to his knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion of all themothers in the town. As Oliver accompanied his master in most of his adultexpeditions too, in order that he might acquire that equanimity of demeanourand full command of nerve which was essential to a finished undertaker, he hadmany opportunities of observing the beautiful resignation and fortitude withwhich some strong-minded people bear their trials and losses.

For instance; when Sowerberry had an order for the burial of some rich old ladyor gentleman, who was surrounded by a great number of nephews and nieces, whohad been perfectly inconsolable during the previous illness, and whose griefhad been wholly irrepressible even on the most public occasions, they would beas happy among themselves as need be—quite cheerful andcontented—conversing together with as much freedom and gaiety, as ifnothing whatever had happened to disturb them. Husbands, too, bore the loss oftheir wives with the most heroic calmness. Wives, again, put on weeds for theirhusbands, as if, so far from grieving in the garb of sorrow, they had made uptheir minds to render it as becoming and attractive as possible. It wasobservable, too, that ladies and gentlemen who were in passions of anguishduring the ceremony of interment, recovered almost as soon as they reachedhome, and became quite composed before the tea-drinking was over. All this wasvery pleasant and improving to see; and Oliver beheld it with great admiration.

That Oliver Twist was moved to resignation by the example of these good people,I cannot, although I am his biographer, undertake to affirm with any degree ofconfidence; but I can most distinctly say, that for many months he continuedmeekly to submit to the domination and ill-treatment of Noah Claypole: who usedhim far worse than before, now that his jealousy was roused by seeing the newboy promoted to the black stick and hatband, while he, the old one, remainedstationary in the muffin-cap and leathers. Charlotte treated him ill, becauseNoah did; and Mrs. Sowerberry was his decided enemy, because Mr. Sowerberry wasdisposed to be his friend; so, between these three on one side, and a glut offunerals on the other, Oliver was not altogether as comfortable as the hungrypig was, when he was shut up, by mistake, in the grain department of a brewery.

And now, I come to a very important passage in Oliver’s history; for Ihave to record an act, slight and unimportant perhaps in appearance, but whichindirectly produced a material change in all his future prospects andproceedings.

One day, Oliver and Noah had descended into the kitchen at the usualdinner-hour, to banquet upon a small joint of mutton—a pound and a halfof the worst end of the neck—when Charlotte being called out of the way,there ensued a brief interval of time, which Noah Claypole, being hungry andvicious, considered he could not possibly devote to a worthier purpose thanaggravating and tantalising young Oliver Twist.

Intent upon this innocent amusement, Noah put his feet on the table-cloth; andpulled Oliver’s hair; and twitched his ears; and expressed his opinionthat he was a “sneak”; and furthermore announced his intention ofcoming to see him hanged, whenever that desirable event should take place; andentered upon various topics of petty annoyance, like a malicious andill-conditioned charity-boy as he was. But, making Oliver cry, Noah attemptedto be more facetious still; and in his attempt, did what many sometimes do tothis day, when they want to be funny. He got rather personal.

“Work’us,” said Noah, “how’s your mother?”

“She’s dead,” replied Oliver; “don’t you sayanything about her to me!”

Oliver’s colour rose as he said this; he breathed quickly; and there wasa curious working of the mouth and nostrils, which Mr. Claypole thought must bethe immediate precursor of a violent fit of crying. Under this impression hereturned to the charge.

“What did she die of, Work’us?” said Noah.

“Of a broken heart, some of our old nurses told me,” repliedOliver: more as if he were talking to himself, than answering Noah. “Ithink I know what it must be to die of that!”

“Tol de rol lol lol, right fol lairy, Work’us,” said Noah, asa tear rolled down Oliver’s cheek. “What’s set you asnivelling now?”

“Not you,” replied Oliver, sharply. “There;that’s enough. Don’t say anything more to me about her; you’dbetter not!”

“Better not!” exclaimed Noah. “Well! Better not!Work’us, don’t be impudent. Your mother, too! She was a nice’un she was. Oh, Lor!” And here, Noah nodded his head expressively;and curled up as much of his small red nose as muscular action could collecttogether, for the occasion.

“Yer know, Work’us,” continued Noah, emboldened byOliver’s silence, and speaking in a jeering tone of affected pity: of alltones the most annoying: “Yer know, Work’us, it can’t behelped now; and of course yer couldn’t help it then; and I am very sorryfor it; and I’m sure we all are, and pity yer very much. But yer mustknow, Work’us, yer mother was a regular right-down bad ’un.”

“What did you say?” inquired Oliver, looking up very quickly.

“A regular right-down bad ’un, Work’us,” replied Noah,coolly. “And it’s a great deal better, Work’us, that she diedwhen she did, or else she’d have been hard labouring in Bridewell, ortransported, or hung; which is more likely than either, isn’t it?”

Crimson with fury, Oliver started up; overthrew the chair and table; seizedNoah by the throat; shook him, in the violence of his rage, till his teethchattered in his head; and collecting his whole force into one heavy blow,felled him to the ground.

A minute ago, the boy had looked the quiet child, mild, dejected creature thatharsh treatment had made him. But his spirit was roused at last; the cruelinsult to his dead mother had set his blood on fire. His breast heaved; hisattitude was erect; his eye bright and vivid; his whole person changed, as hestood glaring over the cowardly tormentor who now lay crouching at his feet;and defied him with an energy he had never known before.

“He’ll murder me!” blubbered Noah. “Charlotte! missis!Here’s the new boy a murdering of me! Help! help! Oliver’s gonemad! Char—lotte!”

Noah’s shouts were responded to, by a loud scream from Charlotte, and alouder from Mrs. Sowerberry; the former of whom rushed into the kitchen by aside-door, while the latter paused on the staircase till she was quite certainthat it was consistent with the preservation of human life, to come furtherdown.

“Oh, you little wretch!” screamed Charlotte: seizing Oliver withher utmost force, which was about equal to that of a moderately strong man inparticularly good training. “Oh, you little un-grate-ful, mur-de-rous,hor-rid villain!” And between every syllable, Charlotte gave Oliver ablow with all her might: accompanying it with a scream, for the benefit ofsociety.

Charlotte’s fist was by no means a light one; but, lest it should not beeffectual in calming Oliver’s wrath, Mrs. Sowerberry plunged into thekitchen, and assisted to hold him with one hand, while she scratched his facewith the other. In this favourable position of affairs, Noah rose from theground, and pommelled him behind.

This was rather too violent exercise to last long. When they were all weariedout, and could tear and beat no longer, they dragged Oliver, struggling andshouting, but nothing daunted, into the dust-cellar, and there locked him up.This being done, Mrs. Sowerberry sunk into a chair, and burst into tears.

“Bless her, she’s going off!” said Charlotte. “A glassof water, Noah, dear. Make haste!”

“Oh! Charlotte,” said Mrs. Sowerberry: speaking as well as shecould, through a deficiency of breath, and a sufficiency of cold water, whichNoah had poured over her head and shoulders. “Oh! Charlotte, what a mercywe have not all been murdered in our beds!”

“Ah! mercy indeed, ma’am,” was the reply. I only hopethis’ll teach master not to have any more of these dreadful creatures,that are born to be murderers and robbers from their very cradle. Poor Noah! Hewas all but killed, ma’am, when I come in.”

“Poor fellow!” said Mrs. Sowerberry: looking piteously on thecharity-boy.

Noah, whose top waistcoat-button might have been somewhere on a level with thecrown of Oliver’s head, rubbed his eyes with the inside of his wristswhile this commiseration was bestowed upon him, and performed some affectingtears and sniffs.

“What’s to be done!” exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry. “Yourmaster’s not at home; there’s not a man in the house, andhe’ll kick that door down in ten minutes.” Oliver’s vigorousplunges against the bit of timber in question, rendered this occurance highlyprobable.

“Dear, dear! I don’t know, ma’am,” said Charlotte,“unless we send for the police-officers.”

“Or the millingtary,” suggested Mr. Claypole.

“No, no,” said Mrs. Sowerberry: bethinking herself ofOliver’s old friend. “Run to Mr. Bumble, Noah, and tell him to comehere directly, and not to lose a minute; never mind your cap! Make haste! Youcan hold a knife to that black eye, as you run along. It’ll keep theswelling down.”

Noah stopped to make no reply, but started off at his fullest speed; and verymuch it astonished the people who were out walking, to see a charity-boytearing through the streets pell-mell, with no cap on his head, and aclasp-knife at his eye.

Noah Claypole ran along the streets at his swiftest pace, and paused not oncefor breath, until he reached the workhouse-gate. Having rested here, for aminute or so, to collect a good burst of sobs and an imposing show of tears andterror, he knocked loudly at the wicket; and presented such a rueful face tothe aged pauper who opened it, that even he, who saw nothing but rueful facesabout him at the best of times, started back in astonishment.

“Why, what’s the matter with the boy!” said the old pauper.

“Mr. Bumble! Mr. Bumble!” cried Noah, with well-affected dismay:and in tones so loud and agitated, that they not only caught the ear of Mr.Bumble himself, who happened to be hard by, but alarmed him so much that herushed into the yard without his cocked hat,—which is a very curious andremarkable circumstance: as showing that even a beadle, acted upon a sudden andpowerful impulse, may be afflicted with a momentary visitation of loss ofself-possession, and forgetfulness of personal dignity.

“Oh, Mr. Bumble, sir!” said Noah: “Oliver, sir,—Oliverhas—”

“What? What?” interposed Mr. Bumble: with a gleam of pleasure inhis metallic eyes. “Not run away; he hasn’t run away, has he,Noah?”

“No, sir, no. Not run away, sir, but he’s turned wicious,”replied Noah. “He tried to murder me, sir; and then he tried to murderCharlotte; and then missis. Oh! what dreadful pain it is! Such agony, please,sir!” And here, Noah writhed and twisted his body into an extensivevariety of eel-like positions; thereby giving Mr. Bumble to understand that,from the violent and sanguinary onset of Oliver Twist, he had sustained severeinternal injury and damage, from which he was at that moment suffering theacutest torture.

When Noah saw that the intelligence he communicated perfectly paralysed Mr.Bumble, he imparted additional effect thereunto, by bewailing his dreadfulwounds ten times louder than before; and when he observed a gentleman in awhite waistcoat crossing the yard, he was more tragic in his lamentations thanever: rightly conceiving it highly expedient to attract the notice, and rousethe indignation, of the gentleman aforesaid.

The gentleman’s notice was very soon attracted; for he had not walkedthree paces, when he turned angrily round, and inquired what that young cur washowling for, and why Mr. Bumble did not favour him with something which wouldrender the series of vocular exclamations so designated, an involuntaryprocess?

“It’s a poor boy from the free-school, sir,” replied Mr.Bumble, “who has been nearly murdered—all but murdered,sir,—by young Twist.”

“By Jove!” exclaimed the gentleman in the white waistcoat, stoppingshort. “I knew it! I felt a strange presentiment from the very first,that that audacious young savage would come to be hung!”

“He has likewise attempted, sir, to murder the female servant,”said Mr. Bumble, with a face of ashy paleness.

“And his missis,” interposed Mr. Claypole.

“And his master, too, I think you said, Noah?” added Mr. Bumble.

“No! he’s out, or he would have murdered him,” replied Noah.“He said he wanted to.”

“Ah! Said he wanted to, did he, my boy?” inquired the gentleman inthe white waistcoat.

“Yes, sir,” replied Noah. “And please, sir, missis wants toknow whether Mr. Bumble can spare time to step up there, directly, and floghim—’cause master’s out.”

“Certainly, my boy; certainly,” said the gentleman in the whitewaistcoat: smiling benignly, and patting Noah’s head, which was aboutthree inches higher than his own. “You’re a good boy—a verygood boy. Here’s a penny for you. Bumble, just step up toSowerberry’s with your cane, and see what’s best to be done.Don’t spare him, Bumble.”

“No, I will not, sir,” replied the beadle. And the cocked hat andcane having been, by this time, adjusted to their owner’s satisfaction,Mr. Bumble and Noah Claypole betook themselves with all speed to theundertaker’s shop.

Here the position of affairs had not at all improved. Sowerberry had not yetreturned, and Oliver continued to kick, with undiminished vigour, at thecellar-door. The accounts of his ferocity as related by Mrs. Sowerberry andCharlotte, were of so startling a nature, that Mr. Bumble judged it prudent toparley, before opening the door. With this view he gave a kick at the outside,by way of prelude; and, then, applying his mouth to the keyhole, said, in adeep and impressive tone:

“Oliver!”

“Come; you let me out!” replied Oliver, from the inside.

“Do you know this here voice, Oliver?” said Mr. Bumble.

“Yes,” replied Oliver.

“Ain’t you afraid of it, sir? Ain’t you a-trembling while Ispeak, sir?” said Mr. Bumble.

“No!” replied Oliver, boldly.

An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit, and was in thehabit of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not a little. He stepped back from thekeyhole; drew himself up to his full height; and looked from one to another ofthe three bystanders, in mute astonishment.

“Oh, you know, Mr. Bumble, he must be mad,” said Mrs. Sowerberry.

“No boy in half his senses could venture to speak so to you.”

“It’s not Madness, ma’am,” replied Mr. Bumble, after afew moments of deep meditation. “It’s Meat.”

“What?” exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.

“Meat, ma’am, meat,” replied Bumble, with stern emphasis.“You’ve over-fed him, ma’am. You’ve raised a artificialsoul and spirit in him, ma’am unbecoming a person of his condition: asthe board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. Whathave paupers to do with soul or spirit? It’s quite enough that we let’em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, thiswould never have happened.”

“Dear, dear!” ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyesto the kitchen ceiling: “this comes of being liberal!”

The liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, had consisted of a profusebestowal upon him of all the dirty odds and ends which nobody else would eat;so there was a great deal of meekness and self-devotion in her voluntarilyremaining under Mr. Bumble’s heavy accusation. Of which, to do herjustice, she was wholly innocent, in thought, word, or deed.

“Ah!” said Mr. Bumble, when the lady brought her eyes down to earthagain; “the only thing that can be done now, that I know of, is to leavehim in the cellar for a day or so, till he’s a little starved down; andthen to take him out, and keep him on gruel all through the apprenticeship. Hecomes of a bad family. Excitable natures, Mrs. Sowerberry! Both the nurse anddoctor said, that that mother of his made her way here, against difficultiesand pain that would have killed any well-disposed woman, weeks before.”

At this point of Mr. Bumble’s discourse, Oliver, just hearing enough toknow that some allusion was being made to his mother, recommenced kicking, witha violence that rendered every other sound inaudible. Sowerberry returned atthis juncture. Oliver’s offence having been explained to him, with suchexaggerations as the ladies thought best calculated to rouse his ire, heunlocked the cellar-door in a twinkling, and dragged his rebellious apprenticeout, by the collar.

Oliver’s clothes had been torn in the beating he had received; his facewas bruised and scratched; and his hair scattered over his forehead. The angryflush had not disappeared, however; and when he was pulled out of his prison,he scowled boldly on Noah, and looked quite undismayed.

“Now, you are a nice young fellow, ain’t you?” saidSowerberry; giving Oliver a shake, and a box on the ear.

“He called my mother names,” replied Oliver.

“Well, and what if he did, you little ungrateful wretch?” said Mrs.Sowerberry. “She deserved what he said, and worse.”

“She didn’t” said Oliver.

“She did,” said Mrs. Sowerberry.

“It’s a lie!” said Oliver.

Mrs. Sowerberry burst into a flood of tears.

This flood of tears left Mr. Sowerberry no alternative. If he had hesitated forone instant to punish Oliver most severely, it must be quite clear to everyexperienced reader that he would have been, according to all precedents indisputes of matrimony established, a brute, an unnatural husband, an insultingcreature, a base imitation of a man, and various other agreeable characters toonumerous for recital within the limits of this chapter. To do him justice, hewas, as far as his power went—it was not very extensive—kindlydisposed towards the boy; perhaps, because it was his interest to be so;perhaps, because his wife disliked him. The flood of tears, however, left himno resource; so he at once gave him a drubbing, which satisfied even Mrs.Sowerberry herself, and rendered Mr. Bumble’s subsequent application ofthe parochial cane, rather unnecessary. For the rest of the day, he was shut upin the back kitchen, in company with a pump and a slice of bread; and at night,Mrs. Sowerberry, after making various remarks outside the door, by no meanscomplimentary to the memory of his mother, looked into the room, and, amidstthe jeers and pointings of Noah and Charlotte, ordered him upstairs to hisdismal bed.

It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillness of the gloomyworkshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to the feelings which theday’s treatment may be supposed likely to have awakened in a mere child.He had listened to their taunts with a look of contempt; he had borne the lashwithout a cry: for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would havekept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted him alive. But now,when there were none to see or hear him, he fell upon his knees on the floor;and, hiding his face in his hands, wept such tears as, God send for the creditof our nature, few so young may ever have cause to pour out before him!

For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The candle wasburning low in the socket when he rose to his feet. Having gazed cautiouslyround him, and listened intently, he gently undid the fastenings of the door,and looked abroad.

It was a cold, dark night. The stars seemed, to the boy’s eyes, fartherfrom the earth than he had ever seen them before; there was no wind; and thesombre shadows thrown by the trees upon the ground, looked sepulchral anddeath-like, from being so still. He softly reclosed the door. Having availedhimself of the expiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the fewarticles of wearing apparel he had, sat himself down upon a bench, to wait formorning.

With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevices in theshutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door. One timid lookaround—one moment’s pause of hesitation—he had closed itbehind him, and was in the open street.

He looked to the right and to the left, uncertain whither to fly.

He remembered to have seen the waggons, as they went out, toiling up the hill.He took the same route; and arriving at a footpath across the fields: which heknew, after some distance, led out again into the road; struck into it, andwalked quickly on.

Along this same footpath, Oliver well-remembered he had trotted beside Mr.Bumble, when he first carried him to the workhouse from the farm. His way laydirectly in front of the cottage. His heart beat quickly when he bethoughthimself of this; and he half resolved to turn back. He had come a long waythough, and should lose a great deal of time by doing so. Besides, it was soearly that there was very little fear of his being seen; so he walked on.

He reached the house. There was no appearance of its inmates stirring at thatearly hour. Oliver stopped, and peeped into the garden. A child was weeding oneof the little beds; as he stopped, he raised his pale face and disclosed thefeatures of one of his former companions. Oliver felt glad to see him, beforehe went; for, though younger than himself, he had been his little friend andplaymate. They had been beaten, and starved, and shut up together, many andmany a time.

“Hush, Dick!” said Oliver, as the boy ran to the gate, and thrusthis thin arm between the rails to greet him. “Is any one up?”

“Nobody but me,” replied the child.

“You musn’t say you saw me, Dick,” said Oliver. “I amrunning away. They beat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek myfortune, some long way off. I don’t know where. How pale you are!”

“I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,” replied the child witha faint smile. “I am very glad to see you, dear; but don’t stop,don’t stop!”

“Yes, yes, I will, to say good-b’ye to you,” replied Oliver.“I shall see you again, Dick. I know I shall! You will be well andhappy!”

“I hope so,” replied the child. “After I am dead, but notbefore. I know the doctor must be right, Oliver, because I dream so much ofHeaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake. Kissme,” said the child, climbing up the low gate, and flinging his littlearms round Oliver’s neck. “Good-b’ye, dear! God blessyou!”

The blessing was from a young child’s lips, but it was the first thatOliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the struggles andsufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after life, he never once forgotit.

Oliver reached the stile at which the by-path terminated; and once more gainedthe high-road. It was eight o’clock now. Though he was nearly five milesaway from the town, he ran, and hid behind the hedges, by turns, till noon:fearing that he might be pursued and overtaken. Then he sat down to rest by theside of the milestone, and began to think, for the first time, where he hadbetter go and try to live.

The stone by which he was seated, bore, in large characters, an intimation thatit was just seventy miles from that spot to London. The name awakened a newtrain of ideas in the boy’s mind.

London!—that great place!—nobody—not even Mr.Bumble—could ever find him there! He had often heard the old men in theworkhouse, too, say that no lad of spirit need want in London; and that therewere ways of living in that vast city, which those who had been bred up incountry parts had no idea of. It was the very place for a homeless boy, whomust die in the streets unless some one helped him. As these things passedthrough his thoughts, he jumped upon his feet, and again walked forward.

He had diminished the distance between himself and London by full four milesmore, before he recollected how much he must undergo ere he could hope to reachhis place of destination. As this consideration forced itself upon him, heslackened his pace a little, and meditated upon his means of getting there. Hehad a crust of bread, a coarse shirt, and two pairs of stockings, in hisbundle. He had a penny too—a gift of Sowerberry’s after somefuneral in which he had acquitted himself more than ordinarily well—inhis pocket. “A clean shirt,” thought Oliver, “is a verycomfortable thing; and so are two pairs of darned stockings; and so is a penny;but they are small helps to a sixty-five miles’ walk in wintertime.” But Oliver’s thoughts, like those of most other people,although they were extremely ready and active to point out his difficulties,were wholly at a loss to suggest any feasible mode of surmounting them; so,after a good deal of thinking to no particular purpose, he changed his littlebundle over to the other shoulder, and trudged on.

Oliver walked twenty miles that day; and all that time tasted nothing but thecrust of dry bread, and a few draughts of water, which he begged at thecottage-doors by the road-side. When the night came, he turned into a meadow;and, creeping close under a hay-rick, determined to lie there, till morning. Hefelt frightened at first, for the wind moaned dismally over the empty fields:and he was cold and hungry, and more alone than he had ever felt before. Beingvery tired with his walk, however, he soon fell asleep and forgot his troubles.

He felt cold and stiff, when he got up next morning, and so hungry that he wasobliged to exchange the penny for a small loaf, in the very first villagethrough which he passed. He had walked no more than twelve miles, when nightclosed in again. His feet were sore, and his legs so weak that they trembledbeneath him. Another night passed in the bleak damp air, made him worse; whenhe set forward on his journey next morning he could hardly crawl along.

He waited at the bottom of a steep hill till a stage-coach came up, and thenbegged of the outside passengers; but there were very few who took any noticeof him: and even those told him to wait till they got to the top of the hill,and then let them see how far he could run for a halfpenny. Poor Oliver triedto keep up with the coach a little way, but was unable to do it, by reason ofhis fatigue and sore feet. When the outsides saw this, they put their halfpenceback into their pockets again, declaring that he was an idle young dog, anddidn’t deserve anything; and the coach rattled away and left only a cloudof dust behind.

In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up: warning all persons whobegged within the district, that they would be sent to jail. This frightenedOliver very much, and made him glad to get out of those villages with allpossible expedition. In others, he would stand about the inn-yards, and lookmournfully at every one who passed: a proceeding which generally terminated inthe landlady’s ordering one of the post-boys who were lounging about, todrive that strange boy out of the place, for she was sure he had come to stealsomething. If he begged at a farmer’s house, ten to one but theythreatened to set the dog on him; and when he showed his nose in a shop, theytalked about the beadle—which brought Oliver’s heart into hismouth,—very often the only thing he had there, for many hours together.

In fact, if it had not been for a good-hearted turnpike-man, and a benevolentold lady, Oliver’s troubles would have been shortened by the very sameprocess which had put an end to his mother’s; in other words, he wouldmost assuredly have fallen dead upon the king’s highway. But theturnpike-man gave him a meal of bread and cheese; and the old lady, who had ashipwrecked grandson wandering barefoot in some distant part of the earth, tookpity upon the poor orphan, and gave him what little she could afford—andmore—with such kind and gentle words, and such tears of sympathy andcompassion, that they sank deeper into Oliver’s soul, than all thesufferings he had ever undergone.

Early on the seventh morning after he had left his native place, Oliver limpedslowly into the little town of Barnet. The window-shutters were closed; thestreet was empty; not a soul had awakened to the business of the day. The sunwas rising in all its splendid beauty; but the light only served to show theboy his own lonesomeness and desolation, as he sat, with bleeding feet andcovered with dust, upon a door-step.

By degrees, the shutters were opened; the window-blinds were drawn up; andpeople began passing to and fro. Some few stopped to gaze at Oliver for amoment or two, or turned round to stare at him as they hurried by; but nonerelieved him, or troubled themselves to inquire how he came there. He had noheart to beg. And there he sat.

He had been crouching on the step for some time: wondering at the great numberof public-houses (every other house in Barnet was a tavern, large or small),gazing listlessly at the coaches as they passed through, and thinking howstrange it seemed that they could do, with ease, in a few hours, what it hadtaken him a whole week of courage and determination beyond his years toaccomplish: when he was roused by observing that a boy, who had passed himcarelessly some minutes before, had returned, and was now surveying him mostearnestly from the opposite side of the way. He took little heed of this atfirst; but the boy remained in the same attitude of close observation so long,that Oliver raised his head, and returned his steady look. Upon this, the boycrossed over; and walking close up to Oliver, said,

“Hullo, my covey! What’s the row?”

The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer, was about his ownage: but one of the queerest looking boys that Oliver had even seen. He was asnub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile asone would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man.He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes.His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to falloff every moment—and would have done so, very often, if the wearer hadnot had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, whichbrought it back to its old place again. He wore a man’s coat, whichreached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, half-way up his arm,to get his hands out of the sleeves: apparently with the ultimate view ofthrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he keptthem. He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman asever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.

“Hullo, my covey! What’s the row?” said this strange younggentleman to Oliver.

“I am very hungry and tired,” replied Oliver: the tears standing inhis eyes as he spoke. “I have walked a long way. I have been walkingthese seven days.”

“Walking for sivin days!” said the young gentleman. “Oh, Isee. Beak’s order, eh? But,” he added, noticing Oliver’s lookof surprise, “I suppose you don’t know what a beak is, my flashcom-pan-i-on.”

Oliver mildly replied, that he had always heard a bird’s mouth describedby the term in question.

“My eyes, how green!” exclaimed the young gentleman. “Why, abeak’s a madgst’rate; and when you walk by a beak’s order,it’s not straight forerd, but always agoing up, and niver a coming downagin. Was you never on the mill?”

“What mill?” inquired Oliver.

“What mill! Why, the mill—the mill as takes up so littleroom that it’ll work inside a Stone Jug; and always goes better when thewind’s low with people, than when it’s high; acos then theycan’t get workmen. But come,” said the young gentleman; “youwant grub, and you shall have it. I’m at low-water-mark myself—onlyone bob and a magpie; but, as far as it goes, I’ll fork out and stump. Upwith you on your pins. There! Now then! “Morrice!”

Assisting Oliver to rise, the young gentleman took him to an adjacentchandler’s shop, where he purchased a sufficiency of ready-dressed hamand a half-quartern loaf, or, as he himself expressed it, “a fourpennybran!” the ham being kept clean and preserved from dust, by the ingeniousexpedient of making a hole in the loaf by pulling out a portion of the crumb,and stuffing it therein. Taking the bread under his arm, the young gentlmanturned into a small public-house, and led the way to a tap-room in the rear ofthe premises. Here, a pot of beer was brought in, by direction of themysterious youth; and Oliver, falling to, at his new friend’s bidding,made a long and hearty meal, during the progress of which the strange boy eyedhim from time to time with great attention.

“Going to London?” said the strange boy, when Oliver had at lengthconcluded.

“Yes.”

“Got any lodgings?”

“No.”

“Money?”

“No.”

The strange boy whistled; and put his arms into his pockets, as far as the bigcoat-sleeves would let them go.

“Do you live in London?” inquired Oliver.

“Yes. I do, when I’m at home,” replied the boy. “Isuppose you want some place to sleep in to-night, don’t you?”

“I do, indeed,” answered Oliver. “I have not slept under aroof since I left the country.”

“Don’t fret your eyelids on that score,” said the younggentleman. “I’ve got to be in London to-night; and I know a’spectable old gentleman as lives there, wot’ll give you lodgingsfor nothink, and never ask for the change—that is, if any genelman heknows interduces you. And don’t he know me? Oh, no! Not in the least! Byno means. Certainly not!”

The young gentleman smiled, as if to intimate that the latter fragments ofdiscourse were playfully ironical; and finished the beer as he did so.

This unexpected offer of shelter was too tempting to be resisted; especially asit was immediately followed up, by the assurance that the old gentlemanreferred to, would doubtless provide Oliver with a comfortable place, withoutloss of time. This led to a more friendly and confidential dialogue; from whichOliver discovered that his friend’s name was Jack Dawkins, and that hewas a peculiar pet and protege of the elderly gentleman before mentioned.

Mr. Dawkin’s appearance did not say a vast deal in favour of the comfortswhich his patron’s interest obtained for those whom he took under hisprotection; but, as he had a rather flightly and dissolute mode of conversing,and furthermore avowed that among his intimate friends he was better known bythe sobriquet of “The Artful Dodger,” Oliver concluded that, beingof a dissipated and careless turn, the moral precepts of his benefactor hadhitherto been thrown away upon him. Under this impression, he secretly resolvedto cultivate the good opinion of the old gentleman as quickly as possible; and,if he found the Dodger incorrigible, as he more than half suspected he should,to decline the honour of his farther acquaintance.

As John Dawkins objected to their entering London before nightfall, it wasnearly eleven o’clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. Theycrossed from the Angel into St. John’s Road; struck down the small streetwhich terminates at Sadler’s Wells Theatre; through Exmouth Street andCoppice Row; down the little court by the side of the workhouse; across theclassic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-Hole; thence intoLittle Saffron Hill; and so into Saffron Hill the Great: along which the Dodgerscudded at a rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels.

Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keeping sight of hisleader, he could not help bestowing a few hasty glances on either side of theway, as he passed along. A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen.The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthyodours.

There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to beheaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out atthe doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosperamid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, thelowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways andyards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed littleknots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing infilth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows werecautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed orharmless errands.

Oliver was just considering whether he hadn’t better run away, when theyreached the bottom of the hill. His conductor, catching him by the arm, pushedopen the door of a house near Field Lane; and drawing him into the passage,closed it behind them.

“Now, then!” cried a voice from below, in reply to a whistle fromthe Dodger.

“Plummy and slam!” was the reply.

This seemed to be some watchword or signal that all was right; for the light ofa feeble candle gleamed on the wall at the remote end of the passage; and aman’s face peeped out, from where a balustrade of the old kitchenstaircase had been broken away.

“There’s two on you,” said the man, thrusting the candlefarther out, and shielding his eyes with his hand. “Who’s thet’other one?”

“A new pal,” replied Jack Dawkins, pulling Oliver forward.

“Where did he come from?”

“Greenland. Is Fagin upstairs?”

“Yes, he’s a sortin’ the wipes. Up with you!” Thecandle was drawn back, and the face disappeared.

Oliver, groping his way with one hand, and having the other firmly grasped byhis companion, ascended with much difficulty the dark and broken stairs: whichhis conductor mounted with an ease and expedition that showed he was wellacquainted with them.

He threw open the door of a back-room, and drew Oliver in after him.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt. Therewas a deal table before the fire: upon which were a candle, stuck in aginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots, a loaf and butter, and a plate.In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to themantelshelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them,with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whosevillainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted redhair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare; and seemedto be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and the clothes-horse, overwhich a great number of silk handkerchiefs were hanging. Several rough bedsmade of old sacks, were huddled side by side on the floor. Seated round thetable were four or five boys, none older than the Dodger, smoking long claypipes, and drinking spirits with the air of middle-aged men. These all crowdedabout their associate as he whispered a few words to the Jew; and then turnedround and grinned at Oliver. So did the Jew himself, toasting-fork in hand.

“This is him, Fagin,” said Jack Dawkins; “my friend OliverTwist.”

The Jew grinned; and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took him by the hand,and hoped he should have the honour of his intimate acquaintance. Upon this,the young gentleman with the pipes came round him, and shook both his handsvery hard—especially the one in which he held his little bundle. Oneyoung gentleman was very anxious to hang up his cap for him; and another was soobliging as to put his hands in his pockets, in order that, as he was verytired, he might not have the trouble of emptying them, himself, when he went tobed. These civilities would probably be extended much farther, but for aliberal exercise of the Jew’s toasting-fork on the heads and shoulders ofthe affectionate youths who offered them.

“We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very,” said the Jew.“Dodger, take off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire for Oliver.Ah, you’re a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, my dear. There area good many of ’em, ain’t there? We’ve just looked ’emout, ready for the wash; that’s all, Oliver; that’s all. Ha! ha!ha!”

The latter part of this speech, was hailed by a boisterous shout from all thehopeful pupils of the merry old gentleman. In the midst of which they went tosupper.

Oliver ate his share, and the Jew then mixed him a glass of hot gin-and-water:telling him he must drink it off directly, because another gentleman wanted thetumbler. Oliver did as he was desired. Immediately afterwards he felt himselfgently lifted on to one of the sacks; and then he sunk into a deep sleep.

It was late next morning when Oliver awoke, from a sound, long sleep. There wasno other person in the room but the old Jew, who was boiling some coffee in asaucepan for breakfast, and whistling softly to himself as he stirred it roundand round, with an iron spoon. He would stop every now and then to listen whenthere was the least noise below: and when he had satisfied himself, he would goon whistling and stirring again, as before.

Although Oliver had roused himself from sleep, he was not thoroughly awake.There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more infive minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious ofeverything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with youreyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At suchtime, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing, to form someglimmering conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth andspurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its corporealassociate.

Oliver was precisely in this condition. He saw the Jew with his half-closedeyes; heard his low whistling; and recognised the sound of the spoon gratingagainst the saucepan’s sides: and yet the self-same senses were mentallyengaged, at the same time, in busy action with almost everybody he had everknown.

When the coffee was done, the Jew drew the saucepan to the hob. Standing, thenin an irresolute attitude for a few minutes, as if he did not well know how toemploy himself, he turned round and looked at Oliver, and called him by hisname. He did not answer, and was to all appearances asleep.

After satisfying himself upon this head, the Jew stepped gently to the door:which he fastened. He then drew forth: as it seemed to Oliver, from some trapin the floor: a small box, which he placed carefully on the table. His eyesglistened as he raised the lid, and looked in. Dragging an old chair to thetable, he sat down; and took from it a magnificent gold watch, sparkling withjewels.

“Aha!” said the Jew, shrugging up his shoulders, and distortingevery feature with a hideous grin. “Clever dogs! Clever dogs! Staunch tothe last! Never told the old parson where they were. Never poached upon oldFagin! And why should they? It wouldn’t have loosened the knot, or keptthe drop up, a minute longer. No, no, no! Fine fellows! Fine fellows!”

With these, and other muttered reflections of the like nature, the Jew oncemore deposited the watch in its place of safety. At least half a dozen morewere severally drawn forth from the same box, and surveyed with equal pleasure;besides rings, brooches, bracelets, and other articles of jewellery, of suchmagnificent materials, and costly workmanship, that Oliver had no idea, even oftheir names.

Having replaced these trinkets, the Jew took out another: so small that it layin the palm of his hand. There seemed to be some very minute inscription on it;for the Jew laid it flat upon the table, and shading it with his hand, poredover it, long and earnestly. At length he put it down, as if despairing ofsuccess; and, leaning back in his chair, muttered:

“What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead mennever bring awkward stories to light. Ah, it’s a fine thing for thetrade! Five of ’em strung up in a row, and none left to play booty, orturn white-livered!”

As the Jew uttered these words, his bright dark eyes, which had been staringvacantly before him, fell on Oliver’s face; the boy’s eyes werefixed on his in mute curiousity; and although the recognition was only for aninstant—for the briefest space of time that can possibly beconceived—it was enough to show the old man that he had been observed.

He closed the lid of the box with a loud crash; and, laying his hand on a breadknife which was on the table, started furiously up. He trembled very muchthough; for, even in his terror, Oliver could see that the knife quivered inthe air.

“What’s that?” said the Jew. “What do you watch me for?Why are you awake? What have you seen? Speak out, boy! Quick—quick! foryour life.

“I wasn’t able to sleep any longer, sir,” replied Oliver,meekly. “I am very sorry if I have disturbed you, sir.”

“You were not awake an hour ago?” said the Jew, scowling fiercelyon the boy.

“No! No, indeed!” replied Oliver.

“Are you sure?” cried the Jew: with a still fiercer look thanbefore: and a threatening attitude.

“Upon my word I was not, sir,” replied Oliver, earnestly. “Iwas not, indeed, sir.”

“Tush, tush, my dear!” said the Jew, abruptly resuming his oldmanner, and playing with the knife a little, before he laid it down; as if toinduce the belief that he had caught it up, in mere sport. “Of course Iknow that, my dear. I only tried to frighten you. You’re a brave boy. Ha!ha! you’re a brave boy, Oliver.” The Jew rubbed his hands with achuckle, but glanced uneasily at the box, notwithstanding.

“Did you see any of these pretty things, my dear?” said the Jew,laying his hand upon it after a short pause.

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver.

“Ah!” said the Jew, turning rather pale.“They—they’re mine, Oliver; my little property. All I have tolive upon, in my old age. The folks call me a miser, my dear. Only a miser;that’s all.”

Oliver thought the old gentleman must be a decided miser to live in such adirty place, with so many watches; but, thinking that perhaps his fondness forthe Dodger and the other boys, cost him a good deal of money, he only cast adeferential look at the Jew, and asked if he might get up.

“Certainly, my dear, certainly,” replied the old gentleman.“Stay. There’s a pitcher of water in the corner by the door. Bringit here; and I’ll give you a basin to wash in, my dear.”

Oliver got up; walked across the room; and stooped for an instant to raise thepitcher. When he turned his head, the box was gone.

He had scarcely washed himself, and made everything tidy, by emptying the basinout of the window, agreeably to the Jew’s directions, when the Dodgerreturned: accompanied by a very sprightly young friend, whom Oliver had seensmoking on the previous night, and who was now formally introduced to him asCharley Bates. The four sat down, to breakfast, on the coffee, and some hotrolls and ham which the Dodger had brought home in the crown of his hat.

“Well,” said the Jew, glancing slyly at Oliver, and addressinghimself to the Dodger, “I hope you’ve been at work this morning, mydears?”

“Hard,” replied the Dodger.

“As nails,” added Charley Bates.

“Good boys, good boys!” said the Jew. “What have you got,Dodger?”

“A couple of pocket-books,” replied that young gentlman.

“Lined?” inquired the Jew, with eagerness.

“Pretty well,” replied the Dodger, producing two pocket-books; onegreen, and the other red.

“Not so heavy as they might be,” said the Jew, after looking at theinsides carefully; “but very neat and nicely made. Ingenious workman,ain’t he, Oliver?”

“Very indeed, sir,” said Oliver. At which Mr. Charles Bates laugheduproariously; very much to the amazement of Oliver, who saw nothing to laughat, in anything that had passed.

“And what have you got, my dear?” said Fagin to Charley Bates.

“Wipes,” replied Master Bates; at the same time producing fourpocket-handkerchiefs.

“Well,” said the Jew, inspecting them closely; “they’revery good ones, very. You haven’t marked them well, though, Charley; sothe marks shall be picked out with a needle, and we’ll teach Oliver howto do it. Shall us, Oliver, eh? Ha! ha! ha!”

“If you please, sir,” said Oliver.

“You’d like to be able to make pocket-handkerchiefs as easy asCharley Bates, wouldn’t you, my dear?” said the Jew.

“Very much, indeed, if you’ll teach me, sir,” replied Oliver.

Master Bates saw something so exquisitely ludicrous in this reply, that heburst into another laugh; which laugh, meeting the coffee he was drinking, andcarrying it down some wrong channel, very nearly terminated in his prematuresuffocation.

“He is so jolly green!” said Charley when he recovered, as anapology to the company for his unpolite behaviour.

The Dodger said nothing, but he smoothed Oliver’s hair over his eyes, andsaid he’d know better, by and by; upon which the old gentleman, observingOliver’s colour mounting, changed the subject by asking whether there hadbeen much of a crowd at the execution that morning? This made him wonder moreand more; for it was plain from the replies of the two boys that they had bothbeen there; and Oliver naturally wondered how they could possibly have foundtime to be so very industrious.

When the breakfast was cleared away; the merry old gentlman and the two boysplayed at a very curious and uncommon game, which was performed in this way.The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, anote-case in the other, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chainround his neck, and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coattight round him, and putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in hispockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the mannerin which old gentlemen walk about the streets any hour in the day. Sometimes hestopped at the fire-place, and sometimes at the door, making believe that hewas staring with all his might into shop-windows. At such times, he would lookconstantly round him, for fear of thieves, and would keep slapping all hispockets in turn, to see that he hadn’t lost anything, in such a veryfunny and natural manner, that Oliver laughed till the tears ran down his face.All this time, the two boys followed him closely about: getting out of hissight, so nimbly, every time he turned round, that it was impossible to followtheir motions. At last, the Dodger trod upon his toes, or ran upon his bootaccidently, while Charley Bates stumbled up against him behind; and in that onemoment they took from him, with the most extraordinary rapidity, snuff-box,note-case, watch-guard, chain, shirt-pin, pocket-handkerchief, even thespectacle-case. If the old gentlman felt a hand in any one of his pockets, hecried out where it was; and then the game began all over again.

When this game had been played a great many times, a couple of young ladiescalled to see the young gentleman; one of whom was named Bet, and the otherNancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, andwere rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty,perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quitestout and hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliverthought them very nice girls indeed. As there is no doubt they were.

The visitors stopped a long time. Spirits were produced, in consequence of oneof the young ladies complaining of a coldness in her inside; and theconversation took a very convivial and improving turn. At length, Charley Batesexpressed his opinion that it was time to pad the hoof. This, it occurred toOliver, must be French for going out; for directly afterwards, the Dodger, andCharley, and the two young ladies, went away together, having been kindlyfurnished by the amiable old Jew with money to spend.

“There, my dear,” said Fagin. “That’s a pleasant life,isn’t it? They have gone out for the day.”

“Have they done work, sir?” inquired Oliver.

“Yes,” said the Jew; “that is, unless they shouldunexpectedly come across any, when they are out; and they won’t neglectit, if they do, my dear, depend upon it. Make ’em your models, my dear.Make ’em your models,” tapping the fire-shovel on the hearth to addforce to his words; “do everything they bid you, and take their advice inall matters—especially the Dodger’s, my dear. He’ll be agreat man himself, and will make you one too, if you take pattern byhim.—Is my handkerchief hanging out of my pocket, my dear?” saidthe Jew, stopping short.

“Yes, sir,” said Oliver.

“See if you can take it out, without my feeling it; as you saw them do,when we were at play this morning.”

Oliver held up the bottom of the pocket with one hand, as he had seen theDodger hold it, and drew the handkerchief lightly out of it with the other.

“Is it gone?” cried the Jew.

“Here it is, sir,” said Oliver, showing it in his hand.

“You’re a clever boy, my dear,” said the playful oldgentleman, patting Oliver on the head approvingly. “I never saw a sharperlad. Here’s a shilling for you. If you go on, in this way, you’llbe the greatest man of the time. And now come here, and I’ll show you howto take the marks out of the handkerchiefs.”

Oliver wondered what picking the old gentleman’s pocket in play, had todo with his chances of being a great man. But, thinking that the Jew, being somuch his senior, must know best, he followed him quietly to the table, and wassoon deeply involved in his new study.

For many days, Oliver remained in the Jew’s room, picking the marks outof the pocket-handkerchief, (of which a great number were brought home,) andsometimes taking part in the game already described: which the two boys and theJew played, regularly, every morning. At length, he began to languish for freshair, and took many occasions of earnestly entreating the old gentleman to allowhim to go out to work with his two companions.

Oliver was rendered the more anxious to be actively employed, by what he hadseen of the stern morality of the old gentleman’s character. Whenever theDodger or Charley Bates came home at night, empty-handed, he would expatiatewith great vehemence on the misery of idle and lazy habits; and would enforceupon them the necessity of an active life, by sending them supperless to bed.On one occasion, indeed, he even went so far as to knock them both down aflight of stairs; but this was carrying out his virtuous precepts to an unusualextent.

At length, one morning, Oliver obtained the permission he had so eagerlysought. There had been no handkerchiefs to work upon, for two or three days,and the dinners had been rather meagre. Perhaps these were reasons for the oldgentleman’s giving his assent; but, whether they were or no, he toldOliver he might go, and placed him under the joint guardianship of CharleyBates, and his friend the Dodger.

The three boys sallied out; the Dodger with his coat-sleeves tucked up, and hishat cocked, as usual; Master Bates sauntering along with his hands in hispockets; and Oliver between them, wondering where they were going, and whatbranch of manufacture he would be instructed in, first.

The pace at which they went, was such a very lazy, ill-looking saunter, thatOliver soon began to think his companions were going to deceive the oldgentleman, by not going to work at all. The Dodger had a vicious propensity,too, of pulling the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing them downareas; while Charley Bates exhibited some very loose notions concerning therights of property, by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls atthe kennel sides, and thrusting them into pockets which were so surprisinglycapacious, that they seemed to undermine his whole suit of clothes in everydirection. These things looked so bad, that Oliver was on the point ofdeclaring his intention of seeking his way back, in the best way he could; whenhis thoughts were suddenly directed into another channel, by a very mysteriouschange of behaviour on the part of the Dodger.

They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the open square inClerkenwell, which is yet called, by some strange perversion of terms,“The Green”: when the Dodger made a sudden stop; and, laying hisfinger on his lip, drew his companions back again, with the greatest cautionand circumspection.

“What’s the matter?” demanded Oliver.

“Hush!” replied the Dodger. “Do you see that old cove at thebook-stall?”

“The old gentleman over the way?” said Oliver. “Yes, I seehim.”

“He’ll do,” said the Dodger.

“A prime plant,” observed Master Charley Bates.

Oliver looked from one to the other, with the greatest surprise; but he was notpermitted to make any inquiries; for the two boys walked stealthily across theroad, and slunk close behind the old gentleman towards whom his attention hadbeen directed. Oliver walked a few paces after them; and, not knowing whetherto advance or retire, stood looking on in silent amazement.

The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powderedhead and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a blackvelvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a smart bamboo cane under hisarm. He had taken up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading away,as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair, in his own study. It is very possiblethat he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his abstraction,that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor the boys, nor, in short,anything but the book itself: which he was reading straight through: turningover the leaf when he got to the bottom of a page, beginning at the top line ofthe next one, and going regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.

What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, lookingon with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodgerplunge his hand into the old gentleman’s pocket, and draw from thence ahandkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to beholdthem, both running away round the corner at full speed!

In an instant the whole mystery of the hankerchiefs, and the watches, and thejewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.

He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins fromterror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused andfrightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off asfast as he could lay his feet to the ground.

This was all done in a minute’s space. In the very instant when Oliverbegan to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his pocket, and missinghis handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the boy scudding away at such arapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the depredator; and shouting“Stop thief!” with all his might, made off after him, book in hand.

But the old gentleman was not the only person who raised the hue-and-cry. TheDodger and Master Bates, unwilling to attract public attention by running downthe open street, had merely retired into the very first doorway round thecorner. They no sooner heard the cry, and saw Oliver running, than, guessingexactly how the matter stood, they issued forth with great promptitude; and,shouting “Stop thief!” too, joined in the pursuit like goodcitizens.

Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoreticallyacquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law ofnature. If he had been, perhaps he would have been prepared for this. Not beingprepared, however, it alarmed him the more; so away he went like the wind, withthe old gentleman and the two boys roaring and shouting behind him.

“Stop thief! Stop thief!” There is a magic in the sound. Thetradesman leaves his counter, and the car-man his waggon; the butcher throwsdown his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his pail; the errand-boy hisparcels; the school-boy his marbles; the paviour his pickaxe; the child hisbattledore. Away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing,yelling, screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners,rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, andcourts, re-echo with the sound.

“Stop thief! Stop thief!” The cry is taken up by a hundred voices,and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through themud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the windows, out run the people,onward bear the mob, a whole audience desert Punch in the very thickest of theplot, and, joining the rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigourto the cry, “Stop thief! Stop thief!”

“Stop thief! Stop thief!” There is a passion FOR huntingsomething deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched breathlesschild, panting with exhaustion; terror in his looks; agony in his eyes; largedrops of perspiration streaming down his face; strains every nerve to make headupon his pursuers; and as they follow on his track, and gain upon him everyinstant, they hail his decreasing strength with joy. “Stop thief!”Ay, stop him for God’s sake, were it only in mercy!

Stopped at last! A clever blow. He is down upon the pavement; and the crowdeagerly gather round him: each new comer, jostling and struggling with theothers to catch a glimpse. “Stand aside!” “Give him a littleair!” “Nonsense! he don’t deserve it.”“Where’s the gentleman?” “Here his is, coming down thestreet.” “Make room there for the gentleman!” “Is thisthe boy, sir!” “Yes.”

Oliver lay, covered with mud and dust, and bleeding from the mouth, lookingwildly round upon the heap of faces that surrounded him, when the old gentlemanwas officiously dragged and pushed into the circle by the foremost of thepursuers.

“Yes,” said the gentleman, “I am afraid it is the boy.”

“Afraid!” murmured the crowd. “That’s a good’un!”

“Poor fellow!” said the gentleman, “he has hurthimself.”

I did that, sir,” said a great lubberly fellow, steppingforward; “and preciously I cut my knuckle agin’ his mouth. Istopped him, sir.”

The fellow touched his hat with a grin, expecting something for his pains; but,the old gentleman, eyeing him with an expression of dislike, look anxiouslyround, as if he contemplated running away himself: which it is very possible hemight have attempted to do, and thus have afforded another chase, had not apolice officer (who is generally the last person to arrive in such cases) atthat moment made his way through the crowd, and seized Oliver by the collar.

“Come, get up,” said the man, roughly.

“It wasn’t me indeed, sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two otherboys,” said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking round.“They are here somewhere.”

“Oh no, they ain’t,” said the officer. He meant this to beironical, but it was true besides; for the Dodger and Charley Bates had filedoff down the first convenient court they came to.

“Come, get up!”

“Don’t hurt him,” said the old gentleman, compassionately.

“Oh no, I won’t hurt him,” replied the officer, tearing hisjacket half off his back, in proof thereof. “Come, I know you; itwon’t do. Will you stand upon your legs, you young devil?”

Oliver, who could hardly stand, made a shift to raise himself on his feet, andwas at once lugged along the streets by the jacket-collar, at a rapid pace. Thegentleman walked on with them by the officer’s side; and as many of thecrowd as could achieve the feat, got a little ahead, and stared back at Oliverfrom time to time. The boys shouted in triumph; and on they went.

The offence had been committed within the district, and indeed in the immediateneighborhood of, a very notorious metropolitan police office. The crowd hadonly the satisfaction of accompanying Oliver through two or three streets, anddown a place called Mutton Hill, when he was led beneath a low archway, and upa dirty court, into this dispensary of summary justice, by the back way. It wasa small paved yard into which they turned; and here they encountered a stoutman with a bunch of whiskers on his face, and a bunch of keys in his hand.

“What’s the matter now?” said the man carelessly.

“A young fogle-hunter,” replied the man who had Oliver in charge.

“Are you the party that’s been robbed, sir?” inquired the manwith the keys.

“Yes, I am,” replied the old gentleman; “but I am not surethat this boy actually took the handkerchief. I—I would rather not pressthe case.”

“Must go before the magistrate now, sir,” replied the man.“His worship will be disengaged in half a minute. Now, younggallows!”

This was an invitation for Oliver to enter through a door which he unlocked ashe spoke, and which led into a stone cell. Here he was searched; and nothingbeing found upon him, locked up.

This cell was in shape and size something like an area cellar, only not solight. It was most intolerably dirty; for it was Monday morning; and it hadbeen tenanted by six drunken people, who had been locked up, elsewhere, sinceSaturday night. But this is little. In our station-houses, men and women areevery night confined on the most trivial charges—the word is worthnoting—in dungeons, compared with which, those in Newgate, occupied bythe most atrocious felons, tried, found guilty, and under sentence of death,are palaces. Let any one who doubts this, compare the two.

The old gentleman looked almost as rueful as Oliver when the key grated in thelock. He turned with a sigh to the book, which had been the innocent cause ofall this disturbance.

“There is something in that boy’s face,” said the oldgentleman to himself as he walked slowly away, tapping his chin with the coverof the book, in a thoughtful manner; “something that touches andinterests me. Can he be innocent? He looked like—Bye thebye,” exclaimed the old gentleman, halting very abruptly, and staring upinto the sky, “Bless my soul!—where have I seen something like thatlook before?”

After musing for some minutes, the old gentleman walked, with the samemeditative face, into a back anteroom opening from the yard; and there,retiring into a corner, called up before his mind’s eye a vastamphitheatre of faces over which a dusky curtain had hung for many years.“No,” said the old gentleman, shaking his head; “it must beimagination.”

He wandered over them again. He had called them into view, and it was not easyto replace the shroud that had so long concealed them. There were the faces offriends, and foes, and of many that had been almost strangers peeringintrusively from the crowd; there were the faces of young and blooming girlsthat were now old women; there were faces that the grave had changed and closedupon, but which the mind, superior to its power, still dressed in their oldfreshness and beauty, calling back the lustre of the eyes, the brightness ofthe smile, the beaming of the soul through its mask of clay, and whispering ofbeauty beyond the tomb, changed but to be heightened, and taken from earth onlyto be set up as a light, to shed a soft and gentle glow upon the path toHeaven.

But the old gentleman could recall no one countenance of which Oliver’sfeatures bore a trace. So, he heaved a sigh over the recollections he awakened;and being, happily for himself, an absent old gentleman, buried them again inthe pages of the musty book.

He was roused by a touch on the shoulder, and a request from the man with thekeys to follow him into the office. He closed his book hastily; and was at onceushered into the imposing presence of the renowned Mr. Fang.

The office was a front parlour, with a panelled wall. Mr. Fang sat behind abar, at the upper end; and on one side the door was a sort of wooden pen inwhich poor little Oliver was already deposited; trembling very much at theawfulness of the scene.

Mr. Fang was a lean, long-backed, stiff-necked, middle-sized man, with no greatquantity of hair, and what he had, growing on the back and sides of his head.His face was stern, and much flushed. If he were really not in the habit ofdrinking rather more than was exactly good for him, he might have broughtaction against his countenance for libel, and have recovered heavy damages.

The old gentleman bowed respectfully; and advancing to the magistrate’sdesk, said, suiting the action to the word, “That is my name and address,sir.” He then withdrew a pace or two; and, with another polite andgentlemanly inclination of the head, waited to be questioned.

Now, it so happened that Mr. Fang was at that moment perusing a leading articlein a newspaper of the morning, adverting to some recent decision of his, andcommending him, for the three hundred and fiftieth time, to the special andparticular notice of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He was outof temper; and he looked up with an angry scowl.

“Who are you?” said Mr. Fang.

The old gentleman pointed, with some surprise, to his card.

“Officer!” said Mr. Fang, tossing the card contemptuously away withthe newspaper. “Who is this fellow?”

“My name, sir,” said the old gentleman, speaking like agentleman, “my name, sir, is Brownlow. Permit me to inquire the name ofthe magistrate who offers a gratuitous and unprovoked insult to a respectableperson, under the protection of the bench.” Saying this, Mr. Brownlowlooked around the office as if in search of some person who would afford himthe required information.

“Officer!” said Mr. Fang, throwing the paper on one side,“what’s this fellow charged with?”

“He’s not charged at all, your worship,” replied the officer.“He appears against this boy, your worship.”

His worship knew this perfectly well; but it was a good annoyance, and a safeone.

“Appears against the boy, does he?” said Mr. Fang, surveying Mr.Brownlow contemptuously from head to foot. “Swear him!”

“Before I am sworn, I must beg to say one word,” said Mr. Brownlow;“and that is, that I really never, without actual experience, could havebelieved—”

“Hold your tongue, sir!” said Mr. Fang, peremptorily.

“I will not, sir!” replied the old gentleman.

“Hold your tongue this instant, or I’ll have you turned out of theoffice!” said Mr. Fang. “You’re an insolent impertinentfellow. How dare you bully a magistrate!”

“What!” exclaimed the old gentleman, reddening.

“Swear this person!” said Fang to the clerk. “I’ll nothear another word. Swear him.”

Mr. Brownlow’s indignation was greatly roused; but reflecting perhaps,that he might only injure the boy by giving vent to it, he suppressed hisfeelings and submitted to be sworn at once.

“Now,” said Fang, “what’s the charge against this boy?What have you got to say, sir?”

“I was standing at a bookstall—” Mr. Brownlow began.

“Hold your tongue, sir,” said Mr. Fang. “Policeman!Where’s the policeman? Here, swear this policeman. Now, policeman, whatis this?”

The policeman, with becoming humility, related how he had taken the charge; howhe had searched Oliver, and found nothing on his person; and how that was allhe knew about it.

“Are there any witnesses?” inquired Mr. Fang.

“None, your worship,” replied the policeman.

Mr. Fang sat silent for some minutes, and then, turning round to theprosecutor, said in a towering passion.

“Do you mean to state what your complaint against this boy is, man, or doyou not? You have been sworn. Now, if you stand there, refusing to giveevidence, I’ll punish you for disrespect to the bench; I will,by—”

By what, or by whom, nobody knows, for the clerk and jailor coughed very loud,just at the right moment; and the former dropped a heavy book upon the floor,thus preventing the word from being heard—accidently, of course.

With many interruptions, and repeated insults, Mr. Brownlow contrived to statehis case; observing that, in the surprise of the moment, he had run after theboy because he had saw him running away; and expressing his hope that, if themagistrate should believe him, although not actually the thief, to be connectedwith the thieves, he would deal as leniently with him as justice would allow.

“He has been hurt already,” said the old gentleman in conclusion.“And I fear,” he added, with great energy, looking towards the bar,“I really fear that he is ill.”

“Oh! yes, I dare say!” said Mr. Fang, with a sneer. “Come,none of your tricks here, you young vagabond; they won’t do. What’syour name?”

Oliver tried to reply but his tongue failed him. He was deadly pale; and thewhole place seemed turning round and round.

“What’s your name, you hardened scoundrel?” demanded Mr.Fang. “Officer, what’s his name?”

This was addressed to a bluff old fellow, in a striped waistcoat, who wasstanding by the bar. He bent over Oliver, and repeated the inquiry; but findinghim really incapable of understanding the question; and knowing that his notreplying would only infuriate the magistrate the more, and add to the severityof his sentence; he hazarded a guess.

“He says his name’s Tom White, your worship,” said thekind-hearted thief-taker.

“Oh, he won’t speak out, won’t he?” said Fang.“Very well, very well. Where does he live?”

“Where he can, your worship,” replied the officer; again pretendingto receive Oliver’s answer.

“Has he any parents?” inquired Mr. Fang.

“He says they died in his infancy, your worship,” replied theofficer: hazarding the usual reply.

At this point of the inquiry, Oliver raised his head; and, looking round withimploring eyes, murmured a feeble prayer for a draught of water.

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Mr. Fang: “don’t try to makea fool of me.”

“I think he really is ill, your worship,” remonstrated the officer.

“I know better,” said Mr. Fang.

“Take care of him, officer,” said the old gentleman, raising hishands instinctively; “he’ll fall down.”

“Stand away, officer,” cried Fang; “let him, if helikes.”

Oliver availed himself of the kind permission, and fell to the floor in afainting fit. The men in the office looked at each other, but no one dared tostir.

“I knew he was shamming,” said Fang, as if this were incontestableproof of the fact. “Let him lie there; he’ll soon be tired ofthat.”

“How do you propose to deal with the case, sir?” inquired the clerkin a low voice.

“Summarily,” replied Mr. Fang. “He stands committed for threemonths—hard labour of course. Clear the office.”

The door was opened for this purpose, and a couple of men were preparing tocarry the insensible boy to his cell; when an elderly man of decent but poorappearance, clad in an old suit of black, rushed hastily into the office, andadvanced towards the bench.

“Stop, stop! don’t take him away! For Heaven’s sake stop amoment!” cried the new comer, breathless with haste.

Although the presiding Genii in such an office as this, exercise a summary andarbitrary power over the liberties, the good name, the character, almost thelives, of Her Majesty’s subjects, especially of the poorer class; andalthough, within such walls, enough fantastic tricks are daily played to makethe angels blind with weeping; they are closed to the public, save through themedium of the daily press.[Footnote: Or were virtually, then.] Mr. Fang wasconsequently not a little indignant to see an unbidden guest enter in suchirreverent disorder.

“What is this? Who is this? Turn this man out. Clear the office!”cried Mr. Fang.

“I will speak,” cried the man; “I will not be turnedout. I saw it all. I keep the book-stall. I demand to be sworn. I will not beput down. Mr. Fang, you must hear me. You must not refuse, sir.”

The man was right. His manner was determined; and the matter was growing rathertoo serious to be hushed up.

“Swear the man,” growled Mr. Fang, with a very ill grace.“Now, man, what have you got to say?”

“This,” said the man: “I saw three boys: two others and theprisoner here: loitering on the opposite side of the way, when this gentlemanwas reading. The robbery was committed by another boy. I saw it done; and I sawthat this boy was perfectly amazed and stupified by it.” Having by thistime recovered a little breath, the worthy book-stall keeper proceeded torelate, in a more coherent manner the exact circumstances of the robbery.

“Why didn’t you come here before?” said Fang, after a pause.

“I hadn’t a soul to mind the shop,” replied the man.“Everybody who could have helped me, had joined in the pursuit. I couldget nobody till five minutes ago; and I’ve run here all the way.”

“The prosecutor was reading, was he?” inquired Fang, after anotherpause.

“Yes,” replied the man. “The very book he has in hishand.”

“Oh, that book, eh?” said Fang. “Is it paid for?”

“No, it is not,” replied the man, with a smile.

“Dear me, I forgot all about it!” exclaimed the absent oldgentleman, innocently.

“A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!” said Fang,with a comical effort to look humane. “I consider, sir, that you haveobtained possession of that book, under very suspicious and disreputablecircumstances; and you may think yourself very fortunate that the owner of theproperty declines to prosecute. Let this be a lesson to you, my man, or the lawwill overtake you yet. The boy is discharged. Clear the office!”

“D—n me!” cried the old gentleman, bursting out with the ragehe had kept down so long, “d—n me! I’ll—”

“Clear the office!” said the magistrate. “Officers, do youhear? Clear the office!”

The mandate was obeyed; and the indignant Mr. Brownlow was conveyed out, withthe book in one hand, and the bamboo cane in the other: in a perfect phrenzy ofrage and defiance. He reached the yard; and his passion vanished in a moment.Little Oliver Twist lay on his back on the pavement, with his shirt unbuttoned,and his temples bathed with water; his face a deadly white; and a cold trembleconvulsing his whole frame.

“Poor boy, poor boy!” said Mr. Brownlow, bending over him.“Call a coach, somebody, pray. Directly!”

A coach was obtained, and Oliver having been carefully laid on the seat, theold gentleman got in and sat himself on the other.

“May I accompany you?” said the book-stall keeper, looking in.

“Bless me, yes, my dear sir,” said Mr. Brownlow quickly. “Iforgot you. Dear, dear! I have this unhappy book still! Jump in. Poor fellow!There’s no time to lose.”

The book-stall keeper got into the coach; and away they drove.

The coach rattled away, over nearly the same ground as that which Oliver hadtraversed when he first entered London in company with the Dodger; and, turninga different way when it reached the Angel at Islington, stopped at lengthbefore a neat house, in a quiet shady street near Pentonville. Here, a bed wasprepared, without loss of time, in which Mr. Brownlow saw his young chargecarefully and comfortably deposited; and here, he was tended with a kindnessand solicitude that knew no bounds.

But, for many days, Oliver remained insensible to all the goodness of his newfriends. The sun rose and sank, and rose and sank again, and many times afterthat; and still the boy lay stretched on his uneasy bed, dwindling away beneaththe dry and wasting heat of fever. The worm does not work more surely on thedead body, than does this slow creeping fire upon the living frame.

Weak, and thin, and pallid, he awoke at last from what seemed to have been along and troubled dream. Feebly raising himself in the bed, with his headresting on his trembling arm, he looked anxiously around.

“What room is this? Where have I been brought to?” said Oliver.“This is not the place I went to sleep in.”

He uttered these words in a feeble voice, being very faint and weak; but theywere overheard at once. The curtain at the bed’s head was hastily drawnback, and a motherly old lady, very neatly and precisely dressed, rose as sheundrew it, from an arm-chair close by, in which she had been sitting atneedle-work.

“Hush, my dear,” said the old lady softly. “You must be veryquiet, or you will be ill again; and you have been very bad,—as bad asbad could be, pretty nigh. Lie down again; there’s a dear!” Withthose words, the old lady very gently placed Oliver’s head upon thepillow; and, smoothing back his hair from his forehead, looked so kindly andloving in his face, that he could not help placing his little withered hand inhers, and drawing it round his neck.

“Save us!” said the old lady, with tears in her eyes. “What agrateful little dear it is. Pretty creetur! What would his mother feel if shehad sat by him as I have, and could see him now!”

“Perhaps she does see me,” whispered Oliver, folding his handstogether; “perhaps she has sat by me. I almost feel as if she had.”

“That was the fever, my dear,” said the old lady mildly.

“I suppose it was,” replied Oliver, “because heaven is a longway off; and they are too happy there, to come down to the bedside of a poorboy. But if she knew I was ill, she must have pitied me, even there; for shewas very ill herself before she died. She can’t know anything about methough,” added Oliver after a moment’s silence. “If she hadseen me hurt, it would have made her sorrowful; and her face has always lookedsweet and happy, when I have dreamed of her.”

The old lady made no reply to this; but wiping her eyes first, and herspectacles, which lay on the counterpane, afterwards, as if they were part andparcel of those features, brought some cool stuff for Oliver to drink; andthen, patting him on the cheek, told him he must lie very quiet, or he would beill again.

So, Oliver kept very still; partly because he was anxious to obey the kind oldlady in all things; and partly, to tell the truth, because he was completelyexhausted with what he had already said. He soon fell into a gentle doze, fromwhich he was awakened by the light of a candle: which, being brought near thebed, showed him a gentleman with a very large and loud-ticking gold watch inhis hand, who felt his pulse, and said he was a great deal better.

“You are a great deal better, are you not, my dear?” saidthe gentleman.

“Yes, thank you, sir,” replied Oliver.

“Yes, I know you are,” said the gentleman: “You’rehungry too, an’t you?”

“No, sir,” answered Oliver.

“Hem!” said the gentleman. “No, I know you’re not. Heis not hungry, Mrs. Bedwin,” said the gentleman: looking very wise.

The old lady made a respectful inclination of the head, which seemed to saythat she thought the doctor was a very clever man. The doctor appeared much ofthe same opinion himself.

“You feel sleepy, don’t you, my dear?” said the doctor.

“No, sir,” replied Oliver.

“No,” said the doctor, with a very shrewd and satisfied look.“You’re not sleepy. Nor thirsty. Are you?”

“Yes, sir, rather thirsty,” answered Oliver.

“Just as I expected, Mrs. Bedwin,” said the doctor.“It’s very natural that he should be thirsty. You may give him alittle tea, ma’am, and some dry toast without any butter. Don’tkeep him too warm, ma’am; but be careful that you don’t let him betoo cold; will you have the goodness?”

The old lady dropped a curtsey. The doctor, after tasting the cool stuff, andexpressing a qualified approval of it, hurried away: his boots creaking in avery important and wealthy manner as he went downstairs.

Oliver dozed off again, soon after this; when he awoke, it was nearly twelveo’clock. The old lady tenderly bade him good-night shortly afterwards,and left him in charge of a fat old woman who had just come: bringing with her,in a little bundle, a small Prayer Book and a large nightcap. Putting thelatter on her head and the former on the table, the old woman, after tellingOliver that she had come to sit up with him, drew her chair close to the fireand went off into a series of short naps, chequered at frequent intervals withsundry tumblings forward, and divers moans and chokings. These, however, had noworse effect than causing her to rub her nose very hard, and then fall asleepagain.

And thus the night crept slowly on. Oliver lay awake for some time, countingthe little circles of light which the reflection of the rushlight-shade threwupon the ceiling; or tracing with his languid eyes the intricate pattern of thepaper on the wall. The darkness and the deep stillness of the room were verysolemn; as they brought into the boy’s mind the thought that death hadbeen hovering there, for many days and nights, and might yet fill it with thegloom and dread of his awful presence, he turned his face upon the pillow, andfervently prayed to Heaven.

Gradually, he fell into that deep tranquil sleep which ease from recentsuffering alone imparts; that calm and peaceful rest which it is pain to wakefrom. Who, if this were death, would be roused again to all the struggles andturmoils of life; to all its cares for the present; its anxieties for thefuture; more than all, its weary recollections of the past!

It had been bright day, for hours, when Oliver opened his eyes; he feltcheerful and happy. The crisis of the disease was safely past. He belonged tothe world again.

In three days’ time he was able to sit in an easy-chair, well propped upwith pillows; and, as he was still too weak to walk, Mrs. Bedwin had himcarried downstairs into the little housekeeper’s room, which belonged toher. Having him set, here, by the fire-side, the good old lady sat herself downtoo; and, being in a state of considerable delight at seeing him so muchbetter, forthwith began to cry most violently.

“Never mind me, my dear,” said the old lady; “I’m onlyhaving a regular good cry. There; it’s all over now; and I’m quitecomfortable.”

“You’re very, very kind to me, ma’am,” said Oliver.

“Well, never you mind that, my dear,” said the old lady;“that’s got nothing to do with your broth; and it’s full timeyou had it; for the doctor says Mr. Brownlow may come in to see you thismorning; and we must get up our best looks, because the better we look, themore he’ll be pleased.” And with this, the old lady applied herselfto warming up, in a little saucepan, a basin full of broth: strong enough,Oliver thought, to furnish an ample dinner, when reduced to the regulationstrength, for three hundred and fifty paupers, at the lowest computation.

“Are you fond of pictures, dear?” inquired the old lady, seeingthat Oliver had fixed his eyes, most intently, on a portrait which hung againstthe wall; just opposite his chair.

“I don’t quite know, ma’am,” said Oliver, withouttaking his eyes from the canvas; “I have seen so few that I hardly know.What a beautiful, mild face that lady’s is!”

“Ah!” said the old lady, “painters always make ladies outprettier than they are, or they wouldn’t get any custom, child. The manthat invented the machine for taking likenesses might have known that wouldnever succeed; it’s a deal too honest. A deal,” said the old lady,laughing very heartily at her own acuteness.

“Is—is that a likeness, ma’am?” said Oliver.

“Yes,” said the old lady, looking up for a moment from the broth;“that’s a portrait.”

“Whose, ma’am?” asked Oliver.

“Why, really, my dear, I don’t know,” answered the old ladyin a good-humoured manner. “It’s not a likeness of anybody that youor I know, I expect. It seems to strike your fancy, dear.”

“It is so pretty,” replied Oliver.

“Why, sure you’re not afraid of it?” said the old lady:observing in great surprise, the look of awe with which the child regarded thepainting.

“Oh no, no,” returned Oliver quickly; “but the eyes look sosorrowful; and where I sit, they seem fixed upon me. It makes my heartbeat,” added Oliver in a low voice, “as if it was alive, and wantedto speak to me, but couldn’t.”

“Lord save us!” exclaimed the old lady, starting;“don’t talk in that way, child. You’re weak and nervous afteryour illness. Let me wheel your chair round to the other side; and then youwon’t see it. There!” said the old lady, suiting the action to theword; “you don’t see it now, at all events.”

Oliver did see it in his mind’s eye as distinctly as if he had notaltered his position; but he thought it better not to worry the kind old lady;so he smiled gently when she looked at him; and Mrs. Bedwin, satisfied that hefelt more comfortable, salted and broke bits of toasted bread into the broth,with all the bustle befitting so solemn a preparation. Oliver got through itwith extraordinary expedition. He had scarcely swallowed the last spoonful,when there came a soft rap at the door. “Come in,” said the oldlady; and in walked Mr. Brownlow.

Now, the old gentleman came in as brisk as need be; but, he had no soonerraised his spectacles on his forehead, and thrust his hands behind the skirtsof his dressing-gown to take a good long look at Oliver, than his countenanceunderwent a very great variety of odd contortions. Oliver looked very worn andshadowy from sickness, and made an ineffectual attempt to stand up, out ofrespect to his benefactor, which terminated in his sinking back into the chairagain; and the fact is, if the truth must be told, that Mr. Brownlow’sheart, being large enough for any six ordinary old gentlemen of humanedisposition, forced a supply of tears into his eyes, by some hydraulic processwhich we are not sufficiently philosophical to be in a condition to explain.

“Poor boy, poor boy!” said Mr. Brownlow, clearing his throat.“I’m rather hoarse this morning, Mrs. Bedwin. I’m afraid Ihave caught cold.”

“I hope not, sir,” said Mrs. Bedwin. “Everything you havehad, has been well aired, sir.”

“I don’t know, Bedwin. I don’t know,” said Mr.Brownlow; “I rather think I had a damp napkin at dinner-time yesterday;but never mind that. How do you feel, my dear?”

“Very happy, sir,” replied Oliver. “And very grateful indeed,sir, for your goodness to me.”

“Good by,” said Mr. Brownlow, stoutly. “Have you given himany nourishment, Bedwin? Any slops, eh?”

“He has just had a basin of beautiful strong broth, sir,” repliedMrs. Bedwin: drawing herself up slightly, and laying strong emphasis on thelast word: to intimate that between slops, and broth will compounded, thereexisted no affinity or connection whatsoever.

“Ugh!” said Mr. Brownlow, with a slight shudder; “a couple ofglasses of port wine would have done him a great deal more good. Wouldn’tthey, Tom White, eh?”

“My name is Oliver, sir,” replied the little invalid: with a lookof great astonishment.

“Oliver,” said Mr. Brownlow; “Oliver what? Oliver White,eh?”

“No, sir, Twist, Oliver Twist.”

“Queer name!” said the old gentleman. “What made you tell themagistrate your name was White?”

“I never told him so, sir,” returned Oliver in amazement.

This sounded so like a falsehood, that the old gentleman looked somewhatsternly in Oliver’s face. It was impossible to doubt him; there was truthin every one of its thin and sharpened lineaments.

“Some mistake,” said Mr. Brownlow. But, although his motive forlooking steadily at Oliver no longer existed, the old idea of the resemblancebetween his features and some familiar face came upon him so strongly, that hecould not withdraw his gaze.

“I hope you are not angry with me, sir?” said Oliver, raising hiseyes beseechingly.

“No, no,” replied the old gentleman. “Why! what’s this?Bedwin, look there!”

As he spoke, he pointed hastily to the picture over Oliver’s head, andthen to the boy’s face. There was its living copy. The eyes, the head,the mouth; every feature was the same. The expression was, for the instant, soprecisely alike, that the minutest line seemed copied with startling accuracy!

Oliver knew not the cause of this sudden exclamation; for, not being strongenough to bear the start it gave him, he fainted away. A weakness on his part,which affords the narrative an opportunity of relieving the reader fromsuspense, in behalf of the two young pupils of the Merry Old Gentleman; and ofrecording—

That when the Dodger, and his accomplished friend Master Bates, joined in thehue-and-cry which was raised at Oliver’s heels, in consequence of theirexecuting an illegal conveyance of Mr. Brownlow’s personal property, ashas been already described, they were actuated by a very laudable and becomingregard for themselves; and forasmuch as the freedom of the subject and theliberty of the individual are among the first and proudest boasts of atrue-hearted Englishman, so, I need hardly beg the reader to observe, that thisaction should tend to exalt them in the opinion of all public and patrioticmen, in almost as great a degree as this strong proof of their anxiety fortheir own preservation and safety goes to corroborate and confirm the littlecode of laws which certain profound and sound-judging philosophers have laiddown as the main-springs of all Nature’s deeds and actions: the saidphilosophers very wisely reducing the good lady’s proceedings to mattersof maxim and theory: and, by a very neat and pretty compliment to her exaltedwisdom and understanding, putting entirely out of sight any considerations ofheart, or generous impulse and feeling. For, these are matters totally beneatha female who is acknowledged by universal admission to be far above thenumerous little foibles and weaknesses of her sex.

If I wanted any further proof of the strictly philosophical nature of theconduct of these young gentlemen in their very delicate predicament, I shouldat once find it in the fact (also recorded in a foregoing part of thisnarrative), of their quitting the pursuit, when the general attention was fixedupon Oliver; and making immediately for their home by the shortest possiblecut. Although I do not mean to assert that it is usually the practice ofrenowned and learned sages, to shorten the road to any great conclusion (theircourse indeed being rather to lengthen the distance, by various circumlocutionsand discursive staggerings, like unto those in which drunken men under thepressure of a too mighty flow of ideas, are prone to indulge); still, I do meanto say, and do say distinctly, that it is the invariable practice of manymighty philosophers, in carrying out their theories, to evince great wisdom andforesight in providing against every possible contingency which can be supposedat all likely to affect themselves. Thus, to do a great right, you may do alittle wrong; and you may take any means which the end to be attained, willjustify; the amount of the right, or the amount of the wrong, or indeed thedistinction between the two, being left entirely to the philosopher concerned,to be settled and determined by his clear, comprehensive, and impartial view ofhis own particular case.

It was not until the two boys had scoured, with great rapidity, through a mostintricate maze of narrow streets and courts, that they ventured to halt beneatha low and dark archway. Having remained silent here, just long enough torecover breath to speak, Master Bates uttered an exclamation of amusement anddelight; and, bursting into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, flung himselfupon a doorstep, and rolled thereon in a transport of mirth.

“What’s the matter?” inquired the Dodger.

“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Charley Bates.

“Hold your noise,” remonstrated the Dodger, looking cautiouslyround. “Do you want to be grabbed, stupid?”

“I can’t help it,” said Charley, “I can’t helpit! To see him splitting away at that pace, and cutting round the corners, andknocking up again’ the posts, and starting on again as if he was made ofiron as well as them, and me with the wipe in my pocket, singing out arterhim—oh, my eye!” The vivid imagination of Master Bates presentedthe scene before him in too strong colours. As he arrived at this apostrophe,he again rolled upon the door-step, and laughed louder than before.

“What’ll Fagin say?” inquired the Dodger; taking advantage ofthe next interval of breathlessness on the part of his friend to propound thequestion.

“What?” repeated Charley Bates.

“Ah, what?” said the Dodger.

“Why, what should he say?” inquired Charley: stopping rathersuddenly in his merriment; for the Dodger’s manner was impressive.“What should he say?”

Mr. Dawkins whistled for a couple of minutes; then, taking off his hat,scratched his head, and nodded thrice.

“What do you mean?” said Charley.

“Toor rul lol loo, gammon and spinnage, the frog he wouldn’t, andhigh cockolorum,” said the Dodger: with a slight sneer on hisintellectual countenance.

This was explanatory, but not satisfactory. Master Bates felt it so; and againsaid, “What do you mean?”

The Dodger made no reply; but putting his hat on again, and gathering theskirts of his long-tailed coat under his arm, thrust his tongue into his cheek,slapped the bridge of his nose some half-dozen times in a familiar butexpressive manner, and turning on his heel, slunk down the court. Master Batesfollowed, with a thoughtful countenance.

The noise of footsteps on the creaking stairs, a few minutes after theoccurrence of this conversation, roused the merry old gentleman as he sat overthe fire with a saveloy and a small loaf in his hand; a pocket-knife in hisright; and a pewter pot on the trivet. There was a rascally smile on his whiteface as he turned round, and looking sharply out from under his thick redeyebrows, bent his ear towards the door, and listened.

“Why, how’s this?” muttered the Jew: changing countenance;“only two of ’em? Where’s the third? They can’t havegot into trouble. Hark!”

The footsteps approached nearer; they reached the landing. The door was slowlyopened; and the Dodger and Charley Bates entered, closing it behind them.

“Where’s Oliver?” said the Jew, rising with a menacing look.“Where’s the boy?”

The young thieves eyed their preceptor as if they were alarmed at his violence;and looked uneasily at each other. But they made no reply.

“What’s become of the boy?” said the Jew, seizing the Dodgertightly by the collar, and threatening him with horrid imprecations.“Speak out, or I’ll throttle you!”

Mr. Fagin looked so very much in earnest, that Charley Bates, who deemed itprudent in all cases to be on the safe side, and who conceived it by no meansimprobable that it might be his turn to be throttled second, dropped upon hisknees, and raised a loud, well-sustained, and continuous roar—somethingbetween a mad bull and a speaking trumpet.

“Will you speak?” thundered the Jew: shaking the Dodger so muchthat his keeping in the big coat at all, seemed perfectly miraculous.

“Why, the traps have got him, and that’s all about it,” saidthe Dodger, sullenly. “Come, let go o’ me, will you!” And,swinging himself, at one jerk, clean out of the big coat, which he left in theJew’s hands, the Dodger snatched up the toasting fork, and made a pass atthe merry old gentleman’s waistcoat; which, if it had taken effect, wouldhave let a little more merriment out than could have been easily replaced.

The Jew stepped back in this emergency, with more agility than could have beenanticipated in a man of his apparent decrepitude; and, seizing up the pot,prepared to hurl it at his assailant’s head. But Charley Bates, at thismoment, calling his attention by a perfectly terrific howl, he suddenly alteredits destination, and flung it full at that young gentleman.

“Why, what the blazes is in the wind now!” growled a deep voice.“Who pitched that ’ere at me? It’s well it’s the beer,and not the pot, as hit me, or I’d have settled somebody. I might haveknow’d, as nobody but an infernal, rich, plundering, thundering old Jewcould afford to throw away any drink but water—and not that, unless hedone the River Company every quarter. Wot’s it all about, Fagin?D—me, if my neck-handkercher an’t lined with beer! Come in, yousneaking warmint; wot are you stopping outside for, as if you was ashamed ofyour master! Come in!”

The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of aboutfive-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-uphalf boots, and grey cotton stockings which inclosed a bulky pair of legs, withlarge swelling calves;—the kind of legs, which in such costume, alwayslook in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnishthem. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief roundhis neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his faceas he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance witha beard of three days’ growth, and two scowling eyes; one of whichdisplayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by ablow.

“Come in, d’ye hear?” growled this engaging ruffian.

A white shaggy dog, with his face scratched and torn in twenty differentplaces, skulked into the room.

“Why didn’t you come in afore?” said the man.“You’re getting too proud to own me afore company, are you? Liedown!”

This command was accompanied with a kick, which sent the animal to the otherend of the room. He appeared well used to it, however; for he coiled himself upin a corner very quietly, without uttering a sound, and winking his veryill-looking eyes twenty times in a minute, appeared to occupy himself in takinga survey of the apartment.

“What are you up to? Ill-treating the boys, you covetous, avaricious,in-sa-ti-a-ble old fence?” said the man, seating himself deliberately.“I wonder they don’t murder you! I would if I was them. IfI’d been your ’prentice, I’d have done it long ago,and—no, I couldn’t have sold you afterwards, for you’re fitfor nothing but keeping as a curiousity of ugliness in a glass bottle, and Isuppose they don’t blow glass bottles large enough.”

“Hush! hush! Mr. Sikes,” said the Jew, trembling;“don’t speak so loud!”

“None of your mistering,” replied the ruffian; “you alwaysmean mischief when you come that. You know my name: out with it! I shan’tdisgrace it when the time comes.”

“Well, well, then—Bill Sikes,” said the Jew, with abjecthumility. “You seem out of humour, Bill.”

“Perhaps I am,” replied Sikes; “I should think you was ratherout of sorts too, unless you mean as little harm when you throw pewter potsabout, as you do when you blab and—”

“Are you mad?” said the Jew, catching the man by the sleeve, andpointing towards the boys.

Mr. Sikes contented himself with tying an imaginary knot under his left ear,and jerking his head over on the right shoulder; a piece of dumb show which theJew appeared to understand perfectly. He then, in cant terms, with which hiswhole conversation was plentifully besprinkled, but which would be quiteunintelligible if they were recorded here, demanded a glass of liquor.

“And mind you don’t poison it,” said Mr. Sikes, laying hishat upon the table.

This was said in jest; but if the speaker could have seen the evil leer withwhich the Jew bit his pale lip as he turned round to the cupboard, he mighthave thought the caution not wholly unnecessary, or the wish (at all events) toimprove upon the distiller’s ingenuity not very far from the oldgentleman’s merry heart.

After swallowing two of three glasses of spirits, Mr. Sikes condescended totake some notice of the young gentlemen; which gracious act led to aconversation, in which the cause and manner of Oliver’s capture werecircumstantially detailed, with such alterations and improvements on the truth,as to the Dodger appeared most advisable under the circumstances.

“I’m afraid,” said the Jew, “that he may say somethingwhich will get us into trouble.”

“That’s very likely,” returned Sikes with a malicious grin.“You’re blowed upon, Fagin.”

“And I’m afraid, you see,” added the Jew, speaking as if hehad not noticed the interruption; and regarding the other closely as he didso,—“I’m afraid that, if the game was up with us, it might beup with a good many more, and that it would come out rather worse for you thanit would for me, my dear.”

The man started, and turned round upon the Jew. But the old gentleman’sshoulders were shrugged up to his ears; and his eyes were vacantly staring onthe opposite wall.

There was a long pause. Every member of the respectable coterie appearedplunged in his own reflections; not excepting the dog, who by a certainmalicious licking of his lips seemed to be meditating an attack upon the legsof the first gentleman or lady he might encounter in the streets when he wentout.

“Somebody must find out wot’s been done at the office,” saidMr. Sikes in a much lower tone than he had taken since he came in.

The Jew nodded assent.

“If he hasn’t peached, and is committed, there’s no fear tillhe comes out again,” said Mr. Sikes, “and then he must be takencare on. You must get hold of him somehow.”

Again the Jew nodded.

The prudence of this line of action, indeed, was obvious; but, unfortunately,there was one very strong objection to its being adopted. This was, that theDodger, and Charley Bates, and Fagin, and Mr. William Sikes, happened, one andall, to entertain a violent and deeply-rooted antipathy to going near apolice-office on any ground or pretext whatever.

How long they might have sat and looked at each other, in a state ofuncertainty not the most pleasant of its kind, it is difficult to guess. It isnot necessary to make any guesses on the subject, however; for the suddenentrance of the two young ladies whom Oliver had seen on a former occasion,caused the conversation to flow afresh.

“The very thing!” said the Jew. “Bet will go; won’tyou, my dear?”

“Wheres?” inquired the young lady.

“Only just up to the office, my dear,” said the Jew coaxingly.

It is due to the young lady to say that she did not positively affirm that shewould not, but that she merely expressed an emphatic and earnest desire to be“blessed” if she would; a polite and delicate evasion of therequest, which shows the young lady to have been possessed of that natural goodbreeding which cannot bear to inflict upon a fellow-creature, the pain of adirect and pointed refusal.

The Jew’s countenance fell. He turned from this young lady, who wasgaily, not to say gorgeously attired, in a red gown, green boots, and yellowcurl-papers, to the other female.

“Nancy, my dear,” said the Jew in a soothing manner, “what doyou say?”

“That it won’t do; so it’s no use a-trying it on,Fagin,” replied Nancy.

“What do you mean by that?” said Mr. Sikes, looking up in a surlymanner.

“What I say, Bill,” replied the lady collectedly.

“Why, you’re just the very person for it,” reasoned Mr.Sikes: “nobody about here knows anything of you.”

“And as I don’t want ’em to, neither,” replied Nancy inthe same composed manner, “it’s rather more no than yes with me,Bill.”

“She’ll go, Fagin,” said Sikes.

“No, she won’t, Fagin,” said Nancy.

“Yes, she will, Fagin,” said Sikes.

And Mr. Sikes was right. By dint of alternate threats, promises, and bribes,the lady in question was ultimately prevailed upon to undertake the commission.She was not, indeed, withheld by the same considerations as her agreeablefriend; for, having recently removed into the neighborhood of Field Lane fromthe remote but genteel suburb of Ratcliffe, she was not under the sameapprehension of being recognised by any of her numerous acquaintances.

Accordingly, with a clean white apron tied over her gown, and her curl-paperstucked up under a straw bonnet,—both articles of dress being providedfrom the Jew’s inexhaustible stock,—Miss Nancy prepared to issueforth on her errand.

“Stop a minute, my dear,” said the Jew, producing, a little coveredbasket. “Carry that in one hand. It looks more respectable, mydear.”

“Give her a door-key to carry in her t’other one, Fagin,”said Sikes; “it looks real and genivine like.”

“Yes, yes, my dear, so it does,” said the Jew, hanging a largestreet-door key on the forefinger of the young lady’s right hand.

“There; very good! Very good indeed, my dear!” said the Jew,rubbing his hands.

“Oh, my brother! My poor, dear, sweet, innocent little brother!”exclaimed Nancy, bursting into tears, and wringing the little basket and thestreet-door key in an agony of distress. “What has become of him! Wherehave they taken him to! Oh, do have pity, and tell me what’s been donewith the dear boy, gentlemen; do, gentlemen, if you please, gentlemen!”

Having uttered those words in a most lamentable and heart-broken tone: to theimmeasurable delight of her hearers: Miss Nancy paused, winked to the company,nodded smilingly round, and disappeared.

“Ah, she’s a clever girl, my dears,” said the Jew, turninground to his young friends, and shaking his head gravely, as if in muteadmonition to them to follow the bright example they had just beheld.

“She’s a honour to her sex,” said Mr. Sikes, filling hisglass, and smiting the table with his enormous fist. “Here’s herhealth, and wishing they was all like her!”

While these, and many other encomiums, were being passed on the accomplishedNancy, that young lady made the best of her way to the police-office; whither,notwithstanding a little natural timidity consequent upon walking through thestreets alone and unprotected, she arrived in perfect safety shortlyafterwards.

Entering by the back way, she tapped softly with the key at one of thecell-doors, and listened. There was no sound within: so she coughed andlistened again. Still there was no reply: so she spoke.

“Nolly, dear?” murmured Nancy in a gentle voice;“Nolly?”

There was nobody inside but a miserable shoeless criminal, who had been takenup for playing the flute, and who, the offence against society having beenclearly proved, had been very properly committed by Mr. Fang to the House ofCorrection for one month; with the appropriate and amusing remark that since hehad so much breath to spare, it would be more wholesomely expended on thetreadmill than in a musical instrument. He made no answer: being occupiedmentally bewailing the loss of the flute, which had been confiscated for theuse of the county: so Nancy passed on to the next cell, and knocked there.

“Well!” cried a faint and feeble voice.

“Is there a little boy here?” inquired Nancy, with a preliminarysob.

“No,” replied the voice; “God forbid.”

This was a vagrant of sixty-five, who was going to prison for notplaying the flute; or, in other words, for begging in the streets, and doingnothing for his livelihood. In the next cell was another man, who was going tothe same prison for hawking tin saucepans without license; thereby doingsomething for his living, in defiance of the Stamp-office.

But, as neither of these criminals answered to the name of Oliver, or knewanything about him, Nancy made straight up to the bluff officer in the stripedwaistcoat; and with the most piteous wailings and lamentations, rendered morepiteous by a prompt and efficient use of the street-door key and the littlebasket, demanded her own dear brother.

“I haven’t got him, my dear,” said the old man.

“Where is he?” screamed Nancy, in a distracted manner.

“Why, the gentleman’s got him,” replied the officer.

“What gentleman! Oh, gracious heavens! What gentleman?” exclaimedNancy.

In reply to this incoherent questioning, the old man informed the deeplyaffected sister that Oliver had been taken ill in the office, and discharged inconsequence of a witness having proved the robbery to have been committed byanother boy, not in custody; and that the prosecutor had carried him away, inan insensible condition, to his own residence: of and concerning which, all theinformant knew was, that it was somewhere in Pentonville, he having heard thatword mentioned in the directions to the coachman.

In a dreadful state of doubt and uncertainty, the agonised young womanstaggered to the gate, and then, exchanging her faltering walk for a swift run,returned by the most devious and complicated route she could think of, to thedomicile of the Jew.

Mr. Bill Sikes no sooner heard the account of the expedition delivered, than hevery hastily called up the white dog, and, putting on his hat, expeditiouslydeparted: without devoting any time to the formality of wishing the companygood-morning.

“We must know where he is, my dears; he must be found,” said theJew greatly excited. “Charley, do nothing but skulk about, till you bringhome some news of him! Nancy, my dear, I must have him found. I trust to you,my dear,—to you and the Artful for everything! Stay, stay,” addedthe Jew, unlocking a drawer with a shaking hand; “there’s money, mydears. I shall shut up this shop to-night. You’ll know where to find me!Don’t stop here a minute. Not an instant, my dears!”

With these words, he pushed them from the room: and carefully double-lockingand barring the door behind them, drew from its place of concealment the boxwhich he had unintentionally disclosed to Oliver. Then, he hastily proceeded todispose the watches and jewellery beneath his clothing.

A rap at the door startled him in this occupation. “Who’sthere?” he cried in a shrill tone.

“Me!” replied the voice of the Dodger, through the key-hole.

“What now?” cried the Jew impatiently.

“Is he to be kidnapped to the other ken, Nancy says?” inquired theDodger.

“Yes,” replied the Jew, “wherever she lays hands on him. Findhim, find him out, that’s all. I shall know what to do next; neverfear.”

The boy murmured a reply of intelligence: and hurried downstairs after hiscompanions.

“He has not peached so far,” said the Jew as he pursued hisoccupation. “If he means to blab us among his new friends, we may stophis mouth yet.”

Oliver soon recovering from the fainting-fit into which Mr. Brownlow’sabrupt exclamation had thrown him, the subject of the picture was carefullyavoided, both by the old gentleman and Mrs. Bedwin, in the conversation thatensued: which indeed bore no reference to Oliver’s history or prospects,but was confined to such topics as might amuse without exciting him. He wasstill too weak to get up to breakfast; but, when he came down into thehousekeeper’s room next day, his first act was to cast an eager glance atthe wall, in the hope of again looking on the face of the beautiful lady. Hisexpectations were disappointed, however, for the picture had been removed.

“Ah!” said the housekeeper, watching the direction ofOliver’s eyes. “It is gone, you see.”

“I see it is ma’am,” replied Oliver. “Why have theytaken it away?”

“It has been taken down, child, because Mr. Brownlow said, that as itseemed to worry you, perhaps it might prevent your getting well, youknow,” rejoined the old lady.

“Oh, no, indeed. It didn’t worry me, ma’am,” saidOliver. “I liked to see it. I quite loved it.”

“Well, well!” said the old lady, good-humouredly; “you getwell as fast as ever you can, dear, and it shall be hung up again. There! Ipromise you that! Now, let us talk about something else.”

This was all the information Oliver could obtain about the picture at thattime. As the old lady had been so kind to him in his illness, he endeavoured tothink no more of the subject just then; so he listened attentively to a greatmany stories she told him, about an amiable and handsome daughter of hers, whowas married to an amiable and handsome man, and lived in the country; and abouta son, who was clerk to a merchant in the West Indies; and who was, also, sucha good young man, and wrote such dutiful letters home four times a-year, thatit brought the tears into her eyes to talk about them. When the old lady hadexpatiated, a long time, on the excellences of her children, and the merits ofher kind good husband besides, who had been dead and gone, poor dear soul! justsix-and-twenty years, it was time to have tea. After tea she began to teachOliver cribbage: which he learnt as quickly as she could teach: and at whichgame they played, with great interest and gravity, until it was time for theinvalid to have some warm wine and water, with a slice of dry toast, and thento go cosily to bed.

They were happy days, those of Oliver’s recovery. Everything was soquiet, and neat, and orderly; everybody so kind and gentle; that after thenoise and turbulence in the midst of which he had always lived, it seemed likeHeaven itself. He was no sooner strong enough to put his clothes on, properly,than Mr. Brownlow caused a complete new suit, and a new cap, and a new pair ofshoes, to be provided for him. As Oliver was told that he might do what heliked with the old clothes, he gave them to a servant who had been very kind tohim, and asked her to sell them to a Jew, and keep the money for herself. Thisshe very readily did; and, as Oliver looked out of the parlour window, and sawthe Jew roll them up in his bag and walk away, he felt quite delighted to thinkthat they were safely gone, and that there was now no possible danger of hisever being able to wear them again. They were sad rags, to tell the truth; andOliver had never had a new suit before.

One evening, about a week after the affair of the picture, as he was sittingtalking to Mrs. Bedwin, there came a message down from Mr. Brownlow, that ifOliver Twist felt pretty well, he should like to see him in his study, and talkto him a little while.

“Bless us, and save us! Wash your hands, and let me part your hair nicelyfor you, child,” said Mrs. Bedwin. “Dear heart alive! If we hadknown he would have asked for you, we would have put you a clean collar on, andmade you as smart as sixpence!”

Oliver did as the old lady bade him; and, although she lamented grievously,meanwhile, that there was not even time to crimp the little frill that borderedhis shirt-collar; he looked so delicate and handsome, despite that importantpersonal advantage, that she went so far as to say: looking at him with greatcomplacency from head to foot, that she really didn’t think it would havebeen possible, on the longest notice, to have made much difference in him forthe better.

Thus encouraged, Oliver tapped at the study door. On Mr. Brownlow calling tohim to come in, he found himself in a little back room, quite full of books,with a window, looking into some pleasant little gardens. There was a tabledrawn up before the window, at which Mr. Brownlow was seated reading. When hesaw Oliver, he pushed the book away from him, and told him to come near thetable, and sit down. Oliver complied; marvelling where the people could befound to read such a great number of books as seemed to be written to make theworld wiser. Which is still a marvel to more experienced people than OliverTwist, every day of their lives.

“There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?” said Mr.Brownlow, observing the curiosity with which Oliver surveyed the shelves thatreached from the floor to the ceiling.

“A great number, sir,” replied Oliver. “I never saw somany.”

“You shall read them, if you behave well,” said the old gentlemankindly; “and you will like that, better than looking at theoutsides,—that is, some cases; because there are books of which the backsand covers are by far the best parts.”

“I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir,” said Oliver, pointingto some large quartos, with a good deal of gilding about the binding.

“Not always those,” said the old gentleman, patting Oliver on thehead, and smiling as he did so; “there are other equally heavy ones,though of a much smaller size. How should you like to grow up a clever man, andwrite books, eh?”

“I think I would rather read them, sir,” replied Oliver.

“What! wouldn’t you like to be a book-writer?” said the oldgentleman.

Oliver considered a little while; and at last said, he should think it would bea much better thing to be a book-seller; upon which the old gentleman laughedheartily, and declared he had said a very good thing. Which Oliver felt glad tohave done, though he by no means knew what it was.

“Well, well,” said the old gentleman, composing his features.“Don’t be afraid! We won’t make an author of you, whilethere’s an honest trade to be learnt, or brick-making to turn to.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Oliver. At the earnest manner of his reply,the old gentleman laughed again; and said something about a curious instinct,which Oliver, not understanding, paid no very great attention to.

“Now,” said Mr. Brownlow, speaking if possible in a kinder, but atthe same time in a much more serious manner, than Oliver had ever known himassume yet, “I want you to pay great attention, my boy, to what I amgoing to say. I shall talk to you without any reserve; because I am sure youare well able to understand me, as many older persons would be.”

“Oh, don’t tell you are going to send me away, sir, pray!”exclaimed Oliver, alarmed at the serious tone of the old gentleman’scommencement! “Don’t turn me out of doors to wander in the streetsagain. Let me stay here, and be a servant. Don’t send me back to thewretched place I came from. Have mercy upon a poor boy, sir!”

“My dear child,” said the old gentleman, moved by the warmth ofOliver’s sudden appeal; “you need not be afraid of my desertingyou, unless you give me cause.”

“I never, never will, sir,” interposed Oliver.

“I hope not,” rejoined the old gentleman. “I do not think youever will. I have been deceived, before, in the objects whom I have endeavouredto benefit; but I feel strongly disposed to trust you, nevertheless; and I ammore interested in your behalf than I can well account for, even to myself. Thepersons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love, lie deep in their graves; but,although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have notmade a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up, forever, on my best affections.Deep affliction has but strengthened and refined them.”

As the old gentleman said this in a low voice: more to himself than to hiscompanion: and as he remained silent for a short time afterwards: Oliver satquite still.

“Well, well!” said the old gentleman at length, in a more cheerfultone, “I only say this, because you have a young heart; and knowing thatI have suffered great pain and sorrow, you will be more careful, perhaps, notto wound me again. You say you are an orphan, without a friend in the world;all the inquiries I have been able to make, confirm the statement. Let me hearyour story; where you come from; who brought you up; and how you got into thecompany in which I found you. Speak the truth, and you shall not be friendlesswhile I live.”

Oliver’s sobs checked his utterance for some minutes; when he was on thepoint of beginning to relate how he had been brought up at the farm, andcarried to the workhouse by Mr. Bumble, a peculiarly impatient littledouble-knock was heard at the street-door: and the servant, running upstairs,announced Mr. Grimwig.

“Is he coming up?” inquired Mr. Brownlow.

“Yes, sir,” replied the servant. “He asked if there were anymuffins in the house; and, when I told him yes, he said he had come totea.”

Mr. Brownlow smiled; and, turning to Oliver, said that Mr. Grimwig was an oldfriend of his, and he must not mind his being a little rough in his manners;for he was a worthy creature at bottom, as he had reason to know.

“Shall I go downstairs, sir?” inquired Oliver.

“No,” replied Mr. Brownlow, “I would rather you remainedhere.”

At this moment, there walked into the room: supporting himself by a thickstick: a stout old gentleman, rather lame in one leg, who was dressed in a bluecoat, striped waistcoat, nankeen breeches and gaiters, and a broad-brimmedwhite hat, with the sides turned up with green. A very small-plaited shirtfrill stuck out from his waistcoat; and a very long steel watch-chain, withnothing but a key at the end, dangled loosely below it. The ends of his whiteneckerchief were twisted into a ball about the size of an orange; the varietyof shapes into which his countenance was twisted, defy description. He had amanner of screwing his head on one side when he spoke; and of looking out ofthe corners of his eyes at the same time: which irresistibly reminded thebeholder of a parrot. In this attitude, he fixed himself, the moment he madehis appearance; and, holding out a small piece of orange-peel at arm’slength, exclaimed, in a growling, discontented voice.

“Look here! do you see this! Isn’t it a most wonderful andextraordinary thing that I can’t call at a man’s house but I find apiece of this poor surgeon’s friend on the staircase? I’ve beenlamed with orange-peel once, and I know orange-peel will be my death, orI’ll be content to eat my own head, sir!”

This was the handsome offer with which Mr. Grimwig backed and confirmed nearlyevery assertion he made; and it was the more singular in his case, because,even admitting for the sake of argument, the possibility of scientificimprovements being brought to that pass which will enable a gentleman to eathis own head in the event of his being so disposed, Mr. Grimwig’s headwas such a particularly large one, that the most sanguine man alive couldhardly entertain a hope of being able to get through it at a sitting—toput entirely out of the question, a very thick coating of powder.

“I’ll eat my head, sir,” repeated Mr. Grimwig, striking hisstick upon the ground. “Hallo! what’s that!” looking atOliver, and retreating a pace or two.

“This is young Oliver Twist, whom we were speaking about,” said Mr.Brownlow.

Oliver bowed.

“You don’t mean to say that’s the boy who had the fever, Ihope?” said Mr. Grimwig, recoiling a little more. “Wait a minute!Don’t speak! Stop—” continued Mr. Grimwig, abruptly, losingall dread of the fever in his triumph at the discovery; “that’s theboy who had the orange! If that’s not the boy, sir, who had the orange,and threw this bit of peel upon the staircase, I’ll eat my head, and histoo.”

“No, no, he has not had one,” said Mr. Brownlow, laughing.“Come! Put down your hat; and speak to my young friend.”

“I feel strongly on this subject, sir,” said the irritable oldgentleman, drawing off his gloves. “There’s always more or lessorange-peel on the pavement in our street; and I know it’s putthere by the surgeon’s boy at the corner. A young woman stumbled over abit last night, and fell against my garden-railings; directly she got up I sawher look towards his infernal red lamp with the pantomime-light.‘Don’t go to him,’ I called out of the window,‘he’s an assassin! A man-trap!’ So he is. If he isnot—” Here the irascible old gentleman gave a great knock on theground with his stick; which was always understood, by his friends, to implythe customary offer, whenever it was not expressed in words. Then, stillkeeping his stick in his hand, he sat down; and, opening a double eye-glass,which he wore attached to a broad black riband, took a view of Oliver: who,seeing that he was the object of inspection, coloured, and bowed again.

“That’s the boy, is it?” said Mr. Grimwig, at length.

“That’s the boy,” replied Mr. Brownlow.

“How are you, boy?” said Mr. Grimwig.

“A great deal better, thank you, sir,” replied Oliver.

Mr. Brownlow, seeming to apprehend that his singular friend was about to saysomething disagreeable, asked Oliver to step downstairs and tell Mrs. Bedwinthey were ready for tea; which, as he did not half like the visitor’smanner, he was very happy to do.

“He is a nice-looking boy, is he not?” inquired Mr. Brownlow.

“I don’t know,” replied Mr. Grimwig, pettishly.

“Don’t know?”

“No. I don’t know. I never see any difference in boys. I only knewtwo sort of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys.”

“And which is Oliver?”

“Mealy. I know a friend who has a beef-faced boy; a fine boy, they callhim; with a round head, and red cheeks, and glaring eyes; a horrid boy; with abody and limbs that appear to be swelling out of the seams of his blue clothes;with the voice of a pilot, and the appetite of a wolf. I know him! Thewretch!”

“Come,” said Mr. Brownlow, “these are not the characteristicsof young Oliver Twist; so he needn’t excite your wrath.”

“They are not,” replied Mr. Grimwig. “He may haveworse.”

Here, Mr. Brownlow coughed impatiently; which appeared to afford Mr. Grimwigthe most exquisite delight.

“He may have worse, I say,” repeated Mr. Grimwig. “Where doeshe come from! Who is he? What is he? He has had a fever. What of that? Feversare not peculiar to good people; are they? Bad people have fevers sometimes;haven’t they, eh? I knew a man who was hung in Jamaica for murdering hismaster. He had had a fever six times; he wasn’t recommended to mercy onthat account. Pooh! nonsense!”

Now, the fact was, that in the inmost recesses of his own heart, Mr. Grimwigwas strongly disposed to admit that Oliver’s appearance and manner wereunusually prepossessing; but he had a strong appetite for contradiction,sharpened on this occasion by the finding of the orange-peel; and, inwardlydetermining that no man should dictate to him whether a boy was well-looking ornot, he had resolved, from the first, to oppose his friend. When Mr. Brownlowadmitted that on no one point of inquiry could he yet return a satisfactoryanswer; and that he had postponed any investigation into Oliver’sprevious history until he thought the boy was strong enough to hear it; Mr.Grimwig chuckled maliciously. And he demanded, with a sneer, whether thehousekeeper was in the habit of counting the plate at night; because if shedidn’t find a table-spoon or two missing some sunshiny morning, why, hewould be content to—and so forth.

All this, Mr. Brownlow, although himself somewhat of an impetuous gentleman:knowing his friend’s peculiarities, bore with great good humour; as Mr.Grimwig, at tea, was graciously pleased to express his entire approval of themuffins, matters went on very smoothly; and Oliver, who made one of the party,began to feel more at his ease than he had yet done in the fierce oldgentleman’s presence.

“And when are you going to hear a full, true, and particular account ofthe life and adventures of Oliver Twist?” asked Grimwig of Mr. Brownlow,at the conclusion of the meal; looking sideways at Oliver, as he resumed hissubject.

“To-morrow morning,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “I would rather hewas alone with me at the time. Come up to me to-morrow morning at teno’clock, my dear.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Oliver. He answered with some hesitation,because he was confused by Mr. Grimwig’s looking so hard at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” whispered that gentleman to Mr.Brownlow; “he won’t come up to you to-morrow morning. I saw himhesitate. He is deceiving you, my good friend.”

“I’ll swear he is not,” replied Mr. Brownlow, warmly.

“If he is not,” said Mr. Grimwig, “I’ll—”and down went the stick.

“I’ll answer for that boy’s truth with my life!” saidMr. Brownlow, knocking the table.

“And I for his falsehood with my head!” rejoined Mr. Grimwig,knocking the table also.

“We shall see,” said Mr. Brownlow, checking his rising anger.

“We will,” replied Mr. Grimwig, with a provoking smile; “wewill.”

As fate would have it, Mrs. Bedwin chanced to bring in, at this moment, a smallparcel of books, which Mr. Brownlow had that morning purchased of the identicalbookstall-keeper, who has already figured in this history; having laid them onthe table, she prepared to leave the room.

“Stop the boy, Mrs. Bedwin!” said Mr. Brownlow; “there issomething to go back.”

“He has gone, sir,” replied Mrs. Bedwin.

“Call after him,” said Mr. Brownlow; “it’s particular.He is a poor man, and they are not paid for. There are some books to be takenback, too.”

The street-door was opened. Oliver ran one way; and the girl ran another; andMrs. Bedwin stood on the step and screamed for the boy; but there was no boy insight. Oliver and the girl returned, in a breathless state, to report thatthere were no tidings of him.

“Dear me, I am very sorry for that,” exclaimed Mr. Brownlow;“I particularly wished those books to be returned to-night.”

“Send Oliver with them,” said Mr. Grimwig, with an ironical smile;“he will be sure to deliver them safely, you know.”

“Yes; do let me take them, if you please, sir,” said Oliver.“I’ll run all the way, sir.”

The old gentleman was just going to say that Oliver should not go out on anyaccount; when a most malicious cough from Mr. Grimwig determined him that heshould; and that, by his prompt discharge of the commission, he should prove tohim the injustice of his suspicions: on this head at least: at once.

“You shall go, my dear,” said the old gentleman. “Thebooks are on a chair by my table. Fetch them down.”

Oliver, delighted to be of use, brought down the books under his arm in a greatbustle; 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 havecome to pay the four pound ten I owe him. This is a five-pound note, so youwill have to bring me back, ten shillings change.”

“I won’t be ten minutes, sir,” said Oliver, eagerly. Havingbuttoned up the bank-note in his jacket pocket, and placed the books carefullyunder his arm, he made a respectful bow, and left the room. Mrs. Bedwinfollowed him to the street-door, giving him many directions about the nearestway, and the name of the bookseller, and the name of the street: all of whichOliver said he clearly understood. Having superadded many injunctions to besure and not take cold, the 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 thecorner. 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 thelongest,” said Mr. Brownlow, pulling out his watch, and placing it on thetable. “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 themoment; 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 a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuable books underhis arm, and a five-pound note in his pocket. He’ll join his old friendsthe 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 twofriends sat, in silent expectation, with the watch between them.

It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the importance we attach to our ownjudgments, and the pride with which we put forth our most rash and hastyconclusions, that, although Mr. Grimwig was not by any means a bad-hearted man,and though he would have been unfeignedly sorry to see his respected friendduped and deceived, he really did most earnestly and strongly hope at thatmoment, that Oliver Twist might not come back.

It grew so dark, that the figures on the dial-plate were scarcely discernible;but there the two old gentlemen continued to sit, in silence, with the watchbetween them.

In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of LittleSaffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring gas-light burnt all day inthe 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 impregnatedwith the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half-bootsand stockings, whom even by that dim light no experienced agent of the policewould have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes. At his feet, sat awhite-coated, red-eyed dog; who occupied himself, alternately, in winking athis master with both eyes at the same time; and in licking a large, fresh cuton one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result of some recentconflict.

“Keep quiet, you warmint! Keep quiet!” said Mr. Sikes, suddenlybreaking silence. Whether his meditations were so intense as to be disturbed bythe dog’s winking, or whether his feelings were so wrought upon by hisreflections that they required all the relief derivable from kicking anunoffending animal to allay them, is matter for argument and consideration.Whatever was the cause, the effect was a kick and a curse, bestowed upon thedog simultaneously.

Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon them by theirmasters; but Mr. Sikes’s dog, having faults of temper in common with hisowner, and labouring, perhaps, at this moment, under a powerful sense ofinjury, made no more ado but at once fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots.Having given in a hearty shake, he retired, growling, under a form; justescaping 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 fromhis pocket. “Come here, you born devil! Come here! D’yehear?”

The dog no doubt heard; because Mr. Sikes spoke in the very harshest key of avery harsh voice; but, appearing to entertain some unaccountable objection tohaving his throat cut, he remained where he was, and growled more fiercely thanbefore: at the same time grasping the end of the poker between his teeth, andbiting at it like a wild beast.

This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; who, dropping on his knees,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 andswore, and struck and blasphemed; and the struggle was reaching a most criticalpoint 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. Mr. Sikes,being disappointed of the dog’s participation, at once transferred hisshare in the quarrel to the new comer.

“What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?” saidSikes, with a fierce gesture.

“I didn’t 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 theJew.

“Oh no! You hear nothing, you don’t,” retorted Sikes with afierce sneer. “Sneaking in and out, so as nobody hears how you come orgo! 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, ashaven’t half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill a dog how helikes,” replied Sikes, shutting up the knife with a very expressive look;“that’s why.”

The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table, affected to laugh atthe pleasantry of his friend. He was obviously very ill at ease, however.

“Grin away,” said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying himwith savage contempt; “grin away. You’ll never have the laugh atme, though, unless it’s behind a nightcap. I’ve got the upper handover 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—we—have a mutual interest, Bill,—a mutual interest.”

“Humph,” said Sikes, as if he thought the interest lay rather moreon the Jew’s side than on his. “Well, what have you got to say tome?”

“It’s all passed safe through the melting-pot,” repliedFagin, “and this is your share. It’s rather more than it ought tobe, my dear; but as I know you’ll do me a good turn another time,and—”

“Stow that gammon,” interposed the robber, impatiently.“Where 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 anold cotton handkerchief from his breast; and untying a large knot in onecorner, produced a small brown-paper packet. Sikes, snatching it from him,hastily opened it; and proceeded to count the sovereigns it contained.

“This is all, is it?” inquired Sikes.

“All,” replied the Jew.

“You haven’t opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as you comealong, have you?” inquired Sikes, suspiciously. “Don’t put onan injured look at the question; you’ve done it many a time. Jerk thetinkler.”

These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring the bell. It wasanswered by another Jew: younger than Fagin, but nearly as vile and repulsivein appearance.

Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure. The Jew, perfectlyunderstanding the hint, retired to fill it: previously exchanging a remarkablelook with Fagin, who raised his eyes for an instant, as if in expectation ofit, and shook his head in reply; so slightly that the action would have beenalmost imperceptible to an observant third person. It was lost upon Sikes, whowas 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 havethought that it boded no good to him.

“Is anybody here, Barney?” inquired Fagin; speaking, now that thatSikes was looking on, without raising his eyes from the ground.

“Dot a shoul,” replied Barney; whose words: whether they came fromthe heart or not: made their way through the nose.

“Nobody?” inquired Fagin, in a tone of surprise: which perhapsmight mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth.

“Dobody but Biss Dadsy,” replied Barney.

“Nancy!” exclaimed Sikes. “Where? Strike me blind, if Idon’t honour that ’ere girl, for her native talents.”

“She’s bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar,” repliedBarney.

“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 Nancy; who was decorated with the bonnet, apron, basket, andstreet-door key, complete.

“You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?” inquired Sikes, profferingthe glass.

“Yes, I am, Bill,” replied the young lady, disposing of itscontents; “and tired enough of it I am, too. The young brat’s beenill and confined to the crib; and—”

“Ah, Nancy, dear!” said Fagin, looking up.

Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew’s red eye-brows, and ahalf closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy that she was disposed tobe too communicative, is not a matter of much importance. The fact is all weneed care for here; and the fact is, that she suddenly checked herself, andwith several gracious smiles upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to othermatters. In about ten minutes’ time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit ofcoughing; upon which Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders, and declared itwas time to go. Mr. Sikes, finding that he was walking a short part of her wayhimself, expressed his intention of accompanying her; they went away together,followed, at a little distant, by the dog, who slunk out of a back-yard as soonas his master was out of sight.

The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had left it; lookedafter him as he walked up the dark passage; shook his clenched fist; muttered adeep curse; and then, with a horrible grin, reseated himself 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 adistance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way to the book-stall. When hegot into Clerkenwell, he accidently turned down a by-street which was notexactly in his way; but not discovering his mistake until he had got half-waydown it, and knowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think itworth while to turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as he could, with thebooks under his arm.

He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought to feel; andhow much he would give for only one look at poor little Dick, who, starved andbeaten, might be weeping bitterly at that very moment; when he was startled bya young woman screaming out very loud. “Oh, my dear brother!” Andhe had hardly looked up, to see what the matter was, when he was stopped byhaving a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck.

“Don’t,” cried Oliver, struggling. “Let go of me. Whois it? What are you stopping me for?”

The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations from the youngwoman who had embraced him; and who had a little basket and a street-door keyin her hand.

“Oh my gracious!” said the young woman, “I have found him!Oh! Oliver! Oliver! Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer such distress on youraccount! Come home, dear, come. Oh, I’ve found him. Thank graciousgoodness heavins, I’ve found him!” With these incoherentexclamations, the young woman burst into another fit of crying, and got sodreadfully hysterical, that a couple of women who came up at the moment asked abutcher’s boy with a shiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was alsolooking on, whether he didn’t think he had better run for the doctor. Towhich, the butcher’s boy: who appeared of a lounging, not to say indolentdisposition: replied, that he thought not.

“Oh, no, no, never mind,” said the young woman, graspingOliver’s hand; “I’m better now. Come home directly, you cruelboy! Come!”

“Oh, ma’am,” replied the young woman, “he ran away,near a month ago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectablepeople; and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters; and almostbroke his mother’s heart.”

“Young wretch!” said one woman.

“Go home, do, you little brute,” said the other.

“I am not,” replied Oliver, greatly alarmed. “I don’tknow her. I haven’t any sister, or father and mother either. I’m anorphan; I live at Pentonville.”

“Only hear him, how he braves it out!” cried the young woman.

“Why, it’s Nancy!” exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face forthe first time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment.

“You see he knows me!” cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders.“He can’t help himself. Make him come home, there’s goodpeople, or he’ll kill his dear mother and father, and break myheart!”

“What the devil’s this?” said a man, bursting out of abeer-shop, with a white dog at his heels; “young Oliver! Come home toyour poor mother, you young dog! Come home directly.”

“I don’t belong to them. I don’t know them. Help!help!” cried Oliver, struggling in the man’s powerful grasp.

“Help!” repeated the man. “Yes; I’ll help you, youyoung rascal! What books are these? You’ve been a stealing ’em,have you? Give ’em here.” With these words, the man tore thevolumes from his grasp, and struck him on the head.

“That’s right!” cried a looker-on, from a garret-window.“That’s the only way of bringing him to his senses!”

“To be sure!” cried a sleepy-faced carpenter, casting an approvinglook at the garret-window.

“It’ll do him good!” said the two women.

“And he shall have it, too!” rejoined the man, administeringanother blow, and seizing Oliver by the collar. “Come on, you youngvillain! Here, Bull’s-eye, mind him, boy! Mind him!”

Weak with recent illness; stupified by the blows and the suddenness of theattack; terrified by the fierce growling of the dog, and the brutality of theman; overpowered by the conviction of the bystanders that he really was thehardened little wretch he was described to be; what could one poor child do!Darkness had set in; it was a low neighborhood; no help was near; resistancewas useless. In another moment he was dragged into a labyrinth of dark narrowcourts, and was forced along them at a pace which rendered the few cries hedared to give utterance to, unintelligible. It was of little moment, indeed,whether they were intelligible or no; for there was nobody to care for them,had they been ever so plain.

The gas-lamps were lighted; Mrs. Bedwin was waiting anxiously at the open door;the servant had run up the street twenty times to see if there were any tracesof Oliver; and still the two old gentlemen sat, perseveringly, in the darkparlour, with the watch between them.

The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a large open space;scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and other indications of acattle-market. Sikes slackened his pace when they reached this spot: the girlbeing quite unable to support any longer, the rapid rate at which they hadhitherto walked. Turning to Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take hold ofNancy’s hand.

“Do you hear?” growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and lookedround.

They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers.

Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of no avail. He held outhis hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.

“Give me the other,” said Sikes, seizing Oliver’s unoccupiedhand. “Here, Bull’s-Eye!”

The dog looked up, and growled.

“See here, boy!” said Sikes, putting his other hand toOliver’s throat; “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 anxiousto attach himself to his windpipe without delay.

“He’s as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if heisn’t!” said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim andferocious 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 endearingform of speech; and, giving vent to another admonitory growl for the benefit ofOliver, led the way onward.

It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have beenGrosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary. The night was darkand foggy. The lights in the shops could scarecely struggle through the heavymist, which thickened every moment and shrouded the streets and houses ingloom; rendering the strange place still stranger in Oliver’s eyes; andmaking his uncertainty the more dismal and depressing.

They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struck the hour. Withits first stroke, his two conductors stopped, and turned their heads in thedirection 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 it, can’tI!” replied Sikes.

“I wonder whether they can hear it,” said Nancy.

“Of course they can,” replied Sikes. “It was Bartlemy timewhen I was shopped; and there warn’t a penny trumpet in the fair, as Icouldn’t hear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for the night, therow and din outside made the thundering old jail so silent, that I could almosthave beat my brains out against the iron plates of the door.”

“Poor fellow!” said Nancy, who still had her face turned towardsthe quarter in which the bell had sounded. “Oh, Bill, such fine youngchaps 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’tmuch matter.”

With this consolation, Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising tendency tojealousy, and, clasping Oliver’s wrist more firmly, told him to step outagain.

“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’clockstruck, Bill. I’d walk round and round the place till I dropped, if thesnow 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 stoutrope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or not walking at all, forall the good it would do me. Come on, and don’t stand preachingthere.”

The girl burst into a laugh; drew her shawl more closely round her; and theywalked away. But Oliver felt her hand tremble, and, looking up in her face asthey passed a gas-lamp, saw that it had turned a deadly white.

They walked on, by little-frequented and dirty ways, for a full half-hour:meeting very few people, and those appearing from their looks to hold much thesame position in society as Mr. Sikes himself. At length they turned into avery filthy narrow street, nearly full of old-clothes shops; the dog runningforward, as if conscious that there was no further occasion for his keeping onguard, stopped before the door of a shop that was closed and apparentlyuntenanted; the house was in a ruinous condition, and on the door was nailed aboard, intimating that it was to let: which looked as if it had hung there formany years.

“All right,” cried Sikes, glancing cautiously about.

Nancy stooped below the shutters, and Oliver heard the sound of a bell. Theycrossed to the opposite side of the street, and stood for a few moments under alamp. A noise, as if a sash window were gently raised, was heard; and soonafterwards the door softly opened. Mr. Sikes then seized the terrified boy bythe collar with very little ceremony; and all three were quickly inside thehouse.

The passage was perfectly dark. They waited, while the person who had let themin, 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 hehas been. Won’t he be glad to see you? Oh, no!”

The style of this reply, as well as the voice which delivered it, seemedfamiliar to Oliver’s ears: but it was impossible to distinguish even theform of the speaker in the darkness.

“Let’s have a glim,” said Sikes, “or we shall gobreaking our necks, or treading on the dog. Look after your legs if youdo!”

“Stand still a moment, and I’ll get you one,” replied thevoice. The receding footsteps of the speaker were heard; and, in anotherminute, the form of Mr. John Dawkins, otherwise the Artful Dodger, appeared. Hebore 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 recognition uponOliver than a humourous grin; but, turning away, beckoned the visitors tofollow him down a flight of stairs. They crossed an empty kitchen; and, openingthe door of a low earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in asmall back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter.

“Oh, my wig, my wig!” cried Master Charles Bates, from whose lungsthe 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 jollygame, I can’t bear it. Hold me, somebody, while I laugh it out.”

With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat onthe floor: and kicked convulsively for five minutes, in an ectasy of facetiousjoy. 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 offhis nightcap, made a great number of low bows to the bewildered boy. TheArtful, meantime, who was of a rather saturnine disposition, and seldom gaveway to merriment when it interfered with business, rifled Oliver’spockets with steady assiduity.

“Look at his togs, Fagin!” said Charley, putting the light so closeto his 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 hisbooks, too! Nothing but a gentleman, Fagin!”

“Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear,” said the Jew,bowing with mock humility. “The Artful shall give you another suit, mydear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one. Why didn’t you write, mydear, and say you were coming? We’d have got something warm forsupper.”

At his, Master Bates roared again: so loud, that Fagin himself relaxed, andeven the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth the five-pound note atthat instant, it is doubtful whether the sally of the discovery awakened hismerriment.

“Hallo, what’s that?” inquired Sikes, stepping forward as theJew seized the note. “That’s mine, Fagin.”

“No, no, my dear,” said the Jew. “Mine, Bill, mine. You shallhave the books.”

“If that ain’t mine!” said Bill Sikes, putting on his hatwith a determined air; “mine and Nancy’s that is; I’ll takethe boy back again.”

The Jew started. Oliver started too, though from a very different cause; for hehoped that the dispute might really end in his being taken back.

“Come! Hand over, will you?” said Sikes.

“This is hardly fair, Bill; hardly fair, is it, Nancy?” inquiredthe Jew.

“Fair, or not fair,” retorted Sikes, “hand over, I tell you!Do you think Nancy and me has got nothing else to do with our precious time butto spend it in scouting arter, and kidnapping, every young boy as gets grabbedthrough you? Give it here, you avaricious old skeleton, give it here!”

With this gentle remonstrance, Mr. Sikes plucked the note from between theJew’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; “andnot half enough, neither. You may keep the books, if you’re fond ofreading. If you ain’t, sell ’em.”

“They’re very pretty,” said Charley Bates: who, with sundrygrimaces, had been affecting to read one of the volumes in question;“beautiful writing, isn’t is, Oliver?” At sight of thedismayed look with which Oliver regarded his tormentors, Master Bates, who wasblessed with a lively sense of the ludicrous, fell into another ectasy, moreboisterous than the first.

“They belong to the old gentleman,” said Oliver, wringing hishands; “to the good, kind, old gentleman who took me into his house, andhad me nursed, when I was near dying of the fever. Oh, pray send them back;send him back the books and money. Keep me here all my life long; but pray,pray send them back. He’ll think I stole them; the old lady: all of themwho were so kind to me: will think I stole them. Oh, do have mercy upon me, andsend them back!”

With these words, which were uttered with all the energy of passionate grief,Oliver fell upon his knees at the Jew’s feet; and beat his handstogether, in perfect desperation.

“The boy’s right,” remarked Fagin, looking covertly round,and knitting his shaggy eyebrows into a hard knot. “You’re right,Oliver, you’re right; they will think you have stolen ’em.Ha! ha!” chuckled the Jew, rubbing his hands, “it couldn’thave happened better, if we had chosen our time!”

“Of course it couldn’t,” replied Sikes; “I know’dthat, directly I see him coming through Clerkenwell, with the books under hisarm. It’s all right enough. They’re soft-hearted psalm-singers, orthey wouldn’t have taken him in at all; and they’ll ask noquestions after him, fear they should be obliged to prosecute, and so get himlagged. He’s safe enough.”

Oliver had looked from one to the other, while these words were being spoken,as if he were bewildered, and could scarecely understand what passed; but whenBill Sikes concluded, he jumped suddenly to his feet, and tore wildly from theroom: uttering shrieks for help, which made the bare old house echo to theroof.

“Keep back the dog, Bill!” cried Nancy, springing before the door,and closing it, as the Jew and his two pupils darted out in pursuit.“Keep back the dog; he’ll tear the boy to pieces.”

“Serve him right!” cried Sikes, struggling to disengage himselffrom the girl’s grasp. “Stand off from me, or I’ll split yourhead against the wall.”

“I don’t care for that, Bill, I don’t care for that,”screamed the girl, struggling violently with the man, “the childshan’t be torn down by the dog, unless you kill me first.”

“Shan’t he!” said Sikes, setting his teeth. “I’llsoon do that, if you don’t keep off.”

The housebreaker flung the girl from him to the further end of the room, justas the Jew and the two boys returned, dragging Oliver among them.

“What’s the matter here!” said Fagin, looking round.

“The girl’s gone mad, I think,” replied Sikes, savagely.

“No, she hasn’t,” said Nancy, pale and breathless from thescuffle; “no, she hasn’t, Fagin; don’t think it.”

“Then keep quiet, will you?” said the Jew, with a threatening look.

“No, I won’t do that, neither,” replied Nancy, speaking veryloud. “Come! What do you think of that?”

Mr. Fagin was sufficiently well acquainted with the manners and customs of thatparticular species of humanity to which Nancy belonged, to feel tolerablycertain that it would be rather unsafe to prolong any conversation with her, atpresent. With the view of diverting the attention of the company, he turned toOliver.

“So you wanted to get away, my dear, did you?” said the Jew, takingup a jagged and knotted club which lay in a corner of the fireplace;“eh?”

Oliver made no reply. But he watched the Jew’s motions, and breathedquickly.

“Wanted to get assistance; called for the police; did you?” sneeredthe Jew, catching the boy by the arm. “We’ll cure you of that, myyoung master.”

The Jew inflicted a smart blow on Oliver’s shoulders with the club; andwas raising it for a second, when the girl, rushing forward, wrested it fromhis hand. She flung it into the fire, with a force that brought some of theglowing coals whirling out into the room.

“I won’t stand by and see it done, Fagin,” cried the girl.“You’ve got the boy, and what more would you have?—Let himbe—let him be—or I shall put that mark on some of you, that willbring me to the gallows before my time.”

The girl stamped her foot violently on the floor as she vented this threat; andwith her lips compressed, and her hands clenched, looked alternately at the Jewand the other robber: her face quite colourless from the passion of rage intowhich she had gradually worked herself.

“Why, Nancy!” said the Jew, in a soothing tone; after a pause,during which he and Mr. Sikes had stared at one another in a disconcertedmanner; “you,—you’re more clever than ever to-night. Ha! ha!my dear, you are acting beautifully.”

“Am I!” said the girl. “Take care I don’t overdo it.You will be the worse for it, Fagin, if I do; and so I tell you in good time tokeep clear of me.”

There is something about a roused woman: especially if she add to all her otherstrong passions, the fierce impulses of recklessness and despair; which few menlike to provoke. The Jew saw that it would be hopeless to affect any furthermistake regarding the reality of Miss Nancy’s rage; and, shrinkinginvoluntarily back a few paces, cast a glance, half imploring and halfcowardly, at Sikes: as if to hint that he was the fittest person to pursue thedialogue.

Mr. Sikes, thus mutely appealed to; and possibly feeling his personal pride andinfluence interested in the immediate reduction of Miss Nancy to reason; gaveutterance to about a couple of score of curses and threats, the rapidproduction of which reflected great credit on the fertility of his invention.As they produced no visible effect on the object against whom they weredischarged, however, he resorted to more tangible arguments.

“What do you mean by this?” said Sikes; backing the inquiry with avery common imprecation concerning the most beautiful of human features: which,if it were heard above, only once out of every fifty thousand times that it isuttered below, would render blindness as common a disorder as measles:“what do you mean by it? Burn my body! Do you know who you are, and whatyou are?”

“Oh, yes, I know all about it,” replied the girl, laughinghysterically; and shaking her head from side to side, with a poor assumption ofindifference.

“Well, then, keep quiet,” rejoined Sikes, with a growl like that hewas accustomed to use when addressing his dog, “or I’ll quiet youfor a good long time to come.”

The girl laughed again: even less composedly than before; and, darting a hastylook at Sikes, turned her face aside, and bit her lip till the blood came.

“You’re a nice one,” added Sikes, as he surveyed her with acontemptuous air, “to take up the humane and gen—teel side! Apretty subject for the child, as you call him, to make a friend of!”

“God Almighty help me, I am!” cried the girl passionately;“and I wish I had been struck dead in the street, or had changed placeswith them we passed so near to-night, before I had lent a hand in bringing himhere. He’s a thief, a liar, a devil, all that’s bad, from thisnight forth. Isn’t that enough for the old wretch, without blows?”

“Come, come, Sikes,” said the Jew appealing to him in aremonstratory tone, and motioning towards the boys, who were eagerly attentiveto all that passed; “we must have civil words; civil words, Bill.”

“Civil words!” cried the girl, whose passion was frightful to see.“Civil words, you villain! Yes, you deserve ’em from me. I thievedfor you when I was a child not half as old as this!” pointing to Oliver.“I have been in the same trade, and in the same service, for twelve yearssince. Don’t you know it? Speak out! Don’t you know it?”

“Well, well,” replied the Jew, with an attempt at pacification;“and, if you have, it’s your living!”

“Aye, it is!” returned the girl; not speaking, but pouring out thewords in one continuous and vehement scream. “It is my living; and thecold, wet, dirty streets are my home; and you’re the wretch that drove meto them long ago, and that’ll keep me there, day and night, day andnight, till I die!”

“I shall do you a mischief!” interposed the Jew, goaded by thesereproaches; “a mischief worse than that, if you say much more!”

The girl said nothing more; but, tearing her hair and dress in a transport ofpassion, made such a rush at the Jew as would probably have left signal marksof her revenge upon him, had not her wrists been seized by Sikes at the rightmoment; upon which, she made a few ineffectual struggles, and fainted.

“She’s all right now,” said Sikes, laying her down in acorner. “She’s uncommon strong in the arms, when she’s up inthis way.”

The Jew wiped his forehead: and smiled, as if it were a relief to have thedisturbance over; but neither he, nor Sikes, nor the dog, nor the boys, seemedto consider it in any other light than a common occurance incidental tobusiness.

“It’s the worst of having to do with women,” said the Jew,replacing his club; “but they’re clever, and we can’t get on,in our line, without ’em. Charley, show Oliver to bed.”

“I suppose he’d better not wear his best clothes tomorrow, Fagin,had he?” inquired Charley Bates.

“Certainly not,” replied the Jew, reciprocating the grin with whichCharley put the question.

Master Bates, apparently much delighted with his commission, took the cleftstick: and led Oliver into an adjacent kitchen, where there were two or threeof the beds on which he had slept before; and here, with many uncontrollablebursts of laughter, he produced the identical old suit of clothes which Oliverhad so much congratulated himself upon leaving off at Mr. Brownlow’s; andthe accidental display of which, to Fagin, by the Jew who purchased them, hadbeen the very first clue received, of his whereabout.

“Put off the smart ones,” said Charley, “and I’ll give’em to Fagin to take care of. What fun it is!”

Poor Oliver unwillingly complied. Master Bates rolling up the new clothes underhis arm, departed from the room, leaving Oliver in the dark, and locking thedoor behind him.

The noise of Charley’s laughter, and the voice of Miss Betsy, whoopportunely arrived to throw water over her friend, and perform other feminineoffices for the promotion of her recovery, might have kept many people awakeunder more happy circumstances than those in which Oliver was placed. But hewas sick and weary; and he soon fell sound asleep.

It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to present thetragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of redand white in a side of streaky bacon. The hero sinks upon his straw bed,weighed down by fetters and misfortunes; in the next scene, his faithful butunconscious squire regales the audience with a comic song. We behold, withthrobbing bosoms, the heroine in the grasp of a proud and ruthless baron: hervirtue and her life alike in danger, drawing forth her dagger to preserve theone at the cost of the other; and just as our expectations are wrought up tothe highest pitch, a whistle is heard, and we are straightway transported tothe great hall of the castle; where a grey-headed seneschal sings a funnychorus with a funnier body of vassals, who are free of all sorts of places,from church vaults to palaces, and roam about in company, carollingperpetually.

Such changes appear absurd; but they are not so unnatural as they would seem atfirst sight. The transitions in real life from well-spread boards todeath-beds, and from mourning-weeds to holiday garments, are not a whit lessstartling; only, there, we are busy actors, instead of passive lookers-on,which makes a vast difference. The actors in the mimic life of the theatre, areblind to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of passion or feeling, which,presented before the eyes of mere spectators, are at once condemned asoutrageous and preposterous.

As sudden shiftings of the scene, and rapid changes of time and place, are notonly sanctioned in books by long usage, but are by many considered as the greatart of authorship: an author’s skill in his craft being, by such critics,chiefly estimated with relation to the dilemmas in which he leaves hischaracters at the end of every chapter: this brief introduction to the presentone may perhaps be deemed unnecessary. If so, let it be considered a delicateintimation on the part of the historian that he is going back to the town inwhich Oliver Twist was born; the reader taking it for granted that there aregood and substantial reasons for making the journey, or he would not be invitedto proceed upon such an expedition.

Mr. Bumble emerged at early morning from the workhouse-gate, and walked withportly carriage and commanding steps, up the High Street. He was in the fullbloom and pride of beadlehood; his cocked hat and coat were dazzling in themorning sun; he clutched his cane with the vigorous tenacity of health andpower. Mr. Bumble always carried his head high; but this morning it was higherthan usual. There was an abstraction in his eye, an elevation in his air, whichmight have warned an observant stranger that thoughts were passing in thebeadle’s mind, too great for utterance.

Mr. Bumble stopped not to converse with the small shopkeepers and others whospoke to him, deferentially, as he passed along. He merely returned theirsalutations with a wave of his hand, and relaxed not in his dignified pace,until he reached the farm where Mrs. Mann tended the infant paupers withparochial care.

“Drat that beadle!” said Mrs. Mann, hearing the well-known shakingat the garden-gate. “If it isn’t him at this time in the morning!Lauk, Mr. Bumble, only think of its being you! Well, dear me, it is apleasure, this is! Come into the parlour, sir, please.”

The first sentence was addressed to Susan; and the exclamations of delight wereuttered to Mr. Bumble: as the good lady unlocked the garden-gate: and showedhim, with great attention and respect, into the house.

“Mrs. Mann,” said Mr. Bumble; not sitting upon, or dropping himselfinto a seat, as any common jackanapes would: but letting himself gradually andslowly down into a chair; “Mrs. Mann, ma’am, good morning.”

“Well, and good morning to you, sir,” replied Mrs. Mann,with many smiles; “and hoping you find yourself well, sir!”

“So-so, Mrs. Mann,” replied the beadle. “A porochial life isnot a bed of roses, Mrs. Mann.”

“Ah, that it isn’t indeed, Mr. Bumble,” rejoined the lady.And all the infant paupers might have chorussed the rejoinder with greatpropriety, if they had heard it.

“A porochial life, ma’am,” continued Mr. Bumble, striking thetable with his cane, “is a life of worrit, and vexation, and hardihood;but all public characters, as I may say, must suffer prosecution.”

Mrs. Mann, not very well knowing what the beadle meant, raised her hands with alook of sympathy, and sighed.

“Ah! You may well sigh, Mrs. Mann!” said the beadle.

Finding she had done right, Mrs. Mann sighed again: evidently to thesatisfaction of the public character: who, repressing a complacent smile bylooking sternly at his cocked hat, said,

“Mrs. Mann, I am going to London.”

“Lauk, Mr. Bumble!” cried Mrs. Mann, starting back.

“To London, ma’am,” resumed the inflexible beadle, “bycoach. I and two paupers, Mrs. Mann! A legal action is a coming on, about asettlement; and the board has appointed me—me, Mrs. Mann—to disposeto the matter before the quarter-sessions at Clerkinwell.

And I very much question,” added Mr. Bumble, drawing himself up,“whether the Clerkinwell Sessions will not find themselves in the wrongbox before they have done with me.”

“Oh! you mustn’t be too hard upon them, sir,” said Mrs. Mann,coaxingly.

“The Clerkinwell Sessions have brought it upon themselves,ma’am,” replied Mr. Bumble; “and if the Clerkinwell Sessionsfind that they come off rather worse than they expected, the ClerkinwellSessions have only themselves to thank.”

There was so much determination and depth of purpose about the menacing mannerin which Mr. Bumble delivered himself of these words, that Mrs. Mann appearedquite awed by them. At length she said,

“You’re going by coach, sir? I thought it was always usual to sendthem paupers in carts.”

“That’s when they’re ill, Mrs. Mann,” said the beadle.“We put the sick paupers into open carts in the rainy weather, to preventtheir taking cold.”

“Oh!” said Mrs. Mann.

“The opposition coach contracts for these two; and takes themcheap,” said Mr. Bumble. “They are both in a very low state, and wefind it would come two pound cheaper to move ’em than to bury’em—that is, if we can throw ’em upon another parish, which Ithink we shall be able to do, if they don’t die upon the road to spiteus. Ha! ha! ha!”

When Mr. Bumble had laughed a little while, his eyes again encountered thecocked hat; and he became grave.

“We are forgetting business, ma’am,” said the beadle;“here is your porochial stipend for the month.”

Mr. Bumble produced some silver money rolled up in paper, from his pocket-book;and requested a receipt: which Mrs. Mann wrote.

“It’s very much blotted, sir,” said the farmer of infants;“but it’s formal enough, I dare say. Thank you, Mr. Bumble, sir, Iam very much obliged to you, I’m sure.”

Mr. Bumble nodded, blandly, in acknowledgment of Mrs. Mann’s curtsey; andinquired how the children were.

“Bless their dear little hearts!” said Mrs. Mann with emotion,“they’re as well as can be, the dears! Of course, except the twothat died last week. And little Dick.”

“Isn’t that boy no better?” inquired Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Mann shook her head.

“He’s a ill-conditioned, wicious, bad-disposed porochial childthat,” said Mr. Bumble angrily. “Where is he?”

“I’ll bring him to you in one minute, sir,” replied Mrs.Mann. “Here, you Dick!”

After some calling, Dick was discovered. Having had his face put under thepump, and dried upon Mrs. Mann’s gown, he was led into the awful presenceof Mr. Bumble, the beadle.

The child was pale and thin; his cheeks were sunken; and his eyes large andbright. The scanty parish dress, the livery of his misery, hung loosely on hisfeeble body; and his young limbs had wasted away, like those of an old man.

Such was the little being who stood trembling beneath Mr. Bumble’sglance; not daring to lift his eyes from the floor; and dreading even to hearthe beadle’s voice.

“Can’t you look at the gentleman, you obstinate boy?” saidMrs. Mann.

The child meekly raised his eyes, and encountered those of Mr. Bumble.

“What’s the matter with you, porochial Dick?” inquired Mr.Bumble, with well-timed jocularity.

“Nothing, sir,” replied the child faintly.

“I should think not,” said Mrs. Mann, who had of course laughedvery much at Mr. Bumble’s humour.

“You want for nothing, I’m sure.”

“I should like—” faltered the child.

“Hey-day!” interposed Mrs. Mann, “I suppose you’regoing to say that you do want for something, now? Why, you littlewretch—”

“Stop, Mrs. Mann, stop!” said the beadle, raising his hand with ashow of authority. “Like what, sir, eh?”

“I should like,” faltered the child, “if somebody that canwrite, would put a few words down for me on a piece of paper, and fold it upand seal it, and keep it for me, after I am laid in the ground.”

“Why, what does the boy mean?” exclaimed Mr. Bumble, on whom theearnest manner and wan aspect of the child had made some impression: accustomedas he was to such things. “What do you mean, sir?”

“I should like,” said the child, “to leave my dear love topoor Oliver Twist; and to let him know how often I have sat by myself and criedto think of his wandering about in the dark nights with nobody to help him. AndI should like to tell him,” said the child pressing his small handstogether, and speaking with great fervour, “that I was glad to die when Iwas very young; for, perhaps, if I had lived to be a man, and had grown old, mylittle sister who is in Heaven, might forget me, or be unlike me; and it wouldbe so much happier if we were both children there together.”

Mr. Bumble surveyed the little speaker, from head to foot, with indescribableastonishment; and, turning to his companion, said, “They’re all inone story, Mrs. Mann. That out-dacious Oliver had demogalized them all!”

“I couldn’t have believed it, sir” said Mrs Mann, holding upher hands, and looking malignantly at Dick. “I never see such a hardenedlittle wretch!”

“Take him away, ma’am!” said Mr. Bumble imperiously.“This must be stated to the board, Mrs. Mann.”

“I hope the gentleman will understand that it isn’t my fault,sir?” said Mrs. Mann, whimpering pathetically.

“They shall understand that, ma’am; they shall be acquainted withthe true state of the case,” said Mr. Bumble. “There; take himaway, I can’t bear the sight on him.”

Dick was immediately taken away, and locked up in the coal-cellar. Mr. Bumbleshortly afterwards took himself off, to prepare for his journey.

At six o’clock next morning, Mr. Bumble: having exchanged his cocked hatfor a round one, and encased his person in a blue great-coat with a cape to it:took his place on the outside of the coach, accompanied by the criminals whosesettlement was disputed; with whom, in due course of time, he arrived inLondon.

He experienced no other crosses on the way, than those which originated in theperverse behaviour of the two paupers, who persisted in shivering, andcomplaining of the cold, in a manner which, Mr. Bumble declared, caused histeeth to chatter in his head, and made him feel quite uncomfortable; althoughhe had a great-coat on.

Having disposed of these evil-minded persons for the night, Mr. Bumble sathimself down in the house at which the coach stopped; and took a temperatedinner of steaks, oyster sauce, and porter. Putting a glass of hotgin-and-water on the chimney-piece, he drew his chair to the fire; and, withsundry moral reflections on the too-prevalent sin of discontent andcomplaining, composed himself to read the paper.

The very first paragraph upon which Mr. Bumble’s eye rested, was thefollowing advertisement.

“FIVE GUINEAS REWARD

“Whereas a young boy, named Oliver Twist, absconded, or was enticed, onThursday evening last, from his home, at Pentonville; and has not since beenheard of. The above reward will be paid to any person who will give suchinformation as will lead to the discovery of the said Oliver Twist, or tend tothrow any light upon his previous history, in which the advertiser is, for manyreasons, warmly interested.”

And then followed a full description of Oliver’s dress, person,appearance, and disappearance: with the name and address of Mr. Brownlow atfull length.

Mr. Bumble opened his eyes; read the advertisement, slowly and carefully, threeseveral times; and in something more than five minutes was on his way toPentonville: having actually, in his excitement, left the glass of hotgin-and-water, untasted.

“Is Mr. Brownlow at home?” inquired Mr. Bumble of the girl whoopened the door.

To this inquiry the girl returned the not uncommon, but rather evasive reply of“I don’t know; where do you come from?”

Mr. Bumble no sooner uttered Oliver’s name, in explanation of his errand,than Mrs. Bedwin, who had been listening at the parlour door, hastened into thepassage in a breathless state.

“Come in, come in,” said the old lady: “I knew we should hearof him. Poor dear! I knew we should! I was certain of it. Bless his heart! Isaid so all along.”

Having heard this, the worthy old lady hurried back into the parlour again; andseating herself on a sofa, burst into tears. The girl, who was not quite sosusceptible, had run upstairs meanwhile; and now returned with a request thatMr. Bumble would follow her immediately: which he did.

He was shown into the little back study, where sat Mr. Brownlow and his friendMr. Grimwig, with decanters and glasses before them. The latter gentleman atonce burst into the exclamation:

“A beadle. A parish beadle, or I’ll eat my head.”

“Pray don’t interrupt just now,” said Mr. Brownlow.“Take a seat, will you?”

Mr. Bumble sat himself down; quite confounded by the oddity of Mr.Grimwig’s manner. Mr. Brownlow moved the lamp, so as to obtain anuninterrupted view of the beadle’s countenance; and said, with a littleimpatience,

“Now, sir, you come in consequence of having seen theadvertisement?”

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Bumble.

“And you ARE a beadle, are you not?” inquired Mr. Grimwig.

“I am a porochial beadle, gentlemen,” rejoined Mr. Bumble proudly.

“Of course,” observed Mr. Grimwig aside to his friend, “Iknew he was. A beadle all over!”

Mr. Brownlow gently shook his head to impose silence on his friend, andresumed:

“Do you know where this poor boy is now?”

“No more than nobody,” replied Mr. Bumble.

“Well, what do you know of him?” inquired the old gentleman.“Speak out, my friend, if you have anything to say. What do youknow of him?”

“You don’t happen to know any good of him, do you?” said Mr.Grimwig, caustically; after an attentive perusal of Mr. Bumble’sfeatures.

Mr. Bumble, catching at the inquiry very quickly, shook his head withportentous solemnity.

“You see?” said Mr. Grimwig, looking triumphantly at Mr. Brownlow.

Mr. Brownlow looked apprehensively at Mr. Bumble’s pursed-up countenance;and requested him to communicate what he knew regarding Oliver, in as few wordsas possible.

Mr. Bumble put down his hat; unbuttoned his coat; folded his arms; inclined hishead in a retrospective manner; and, after a few moments’ reflection,commenced his story.

It would be tedious if given in the beadle’s words: occupying, as it did,some twenty minutes in the telling; but the sum and substance of it was, thatOliver was a foundling, born of low and vicious parents. That he had, from hisbirth, displayed no better qualities than treachery, ingratitude, and malice.That he had terminated his brief career in the place of his birth, by making asanguinary and cowardly attack on an unoffending lad, and running away in thenight-time from his master’s house. In proof of his really being theperson he represented himself, Mr. Bumble laid upon the table the papers he hadbrought to town. Folding his arms again, he then awaited Mr. Brownlow’sobservations.

“I fear it is all too true,” said the old gentleman sorrowfully,after looking over the papers. “This is not much for your intelligence;but I would gladly have given you treble the money, if it had been favourableto the boy.”

It is not improbable that if Mr. Bumble had been possessed of this informationat an earlier period of the interview, he might have imparted a very differentcolouring to his little history. It was too late to do it now, however; so heshook his head gravely, and, pocketing the five guineas, withdrew.

Mr. Brownlow paced the room to and fro for some minutes; evidently so muchdisturbed by the beadle’s tale, that even Mr. Grimwig forbore to vex himfurther.

At length he stopped, and rang the bell violently.

“Mrs. Bedwin,” said Mr. Brownlow, when the housekeeper appeared;“that boy, Oliver, is an imposter.”

“It can’t be, sir. It cannot be,” said the old ladyenergetically.

“I tell you he is,” retorted the old gentleman. “What do youmean by can’t be? We have just heard a full account of him from hisbirth; and he has been a thorough-paced little villain, all his life.”

“I never will believe it, sir,” replied the old lady, firmly.“Never!”

“You old women never believe anything but quack-doctors, and lyingstory-books,” growled Mr. Grimwig. “I knew it all along. Whydidn’t you take my advise in the beginning; you would if he hadn’thad a fever, I suppose, eh? He was interesting, wasn’t he? Interesting!Bah!” And Mr. Grimwig poked the fire with a flourish.

“He was a dear, grateful, gentle child, sir,” retorted Mrs. Bedwin,indignantly. “I know what children are, sir; and have done these fortyyears; and people who can’t say the same, shouldn’t say anythingabout them. That’s my opinion!”

This was a hard hit at Mr. Grimwig, who was a bachelor. As it extorted nothingfrom that gentleman but a smile, the old lady tossed her head, and smootheddown her apron preparatory to another speech, when she was stopped by Mr.Brownlow.

“Silence!” said the old gentleman, feigning an anger he was farfrom feeling. “Never let me hear the boy’s name again. I rang totell you that. Never. Never, on any pretence, mind! You may leave the room,Mrs. Bedwin. Remember! I am in earnest.”

There were sad hearts at Mr. Brownlow’s that night.

Oliver’s heart sank within him, when he thought of his good friends; itwas well for him that he could not know what they had heard, or it might havebroken outright.

About noon next day, when the Dodger and Master Bates had gone out to pursuetheir customary avocations, Mr. Fagin took the opportunity of reading Oliver along lecture on the crying sin of ingratitude; of which he clearly demonstratedhe had been guilty, to no ordinary extent, in wilfully absenting himself fromthe society of his anxious friends; and, still more, in endeavouring to escapefrom them after so much trouble and expense had been incurred in his recovery.Mr. Fagin laid great stress on the fact of his having taken Oliver in, andcherished him, when, without his timely aid, he might have perished withhunger; and he related the dismal and affecting history of a young lad whom, inhis philanthropy, he had succoured under parallel circumstances, but who,proving unworthy of his confidence and evincing a desire to communicate withthe police, had unfortunately come to be hanged at the Old Bailey one morning.Mr. Fagin did not seek to conceal his share in the catastrophe, but lamentedwith tears in his eyes that the wrong-headed and treacherous behaviour of theyoung person in question, had rendered it necessary that he should become thevictim of certain evidence for the crown: which, if it were not precisely true,was indispensably necessary for the safety of him (Mr. Fagin) and a few selectfriends. Mr. Fagin concluded by drawing a rather disagreeable picture of thediscomforts of hanging; and, with great friendliness and politeness of manner,expressed his anxious hopes that he might never be obliged to submit OliverTwist to that unpleasant operation.

Little Oliver’s blood ran cold, as he listened to the Jew’s words,and imperfectly comprehended the dark threats conveyed in them. That it waspossible even for justice itself to confound the innocent with the guilty whenthey were in accidental companionship, he knew already; and that deeply-laidplans for the destruction of inconveniently knowing or over-communicativepersons, had been really devised and carried out by the Jew on more occasionsthan one, he thought by no means unlikely, when he recollected the generalnature of the altercations between that gentleman and Mr. Sikes: which seemedto bear reference to some foregone conspiracy of the kind. As he glancedtimidly up, and met the Jew’s searching look, he felt that his pale faceand trembling limbs were neither unnoticed nor unrelished by that wary oldgentleman.

The Jew, smiling hideously, patted Oliver on the head, and said, that if hekept himself quiet, and applied himself to business, he saw they would be verygood friends yet. Then, taking his hat, and covering himself with an oldpatched great-coat, he went out, and locked the room-door behind him.

And so Oliver remained all that day, and for the greater part of manysubsequent days, seeing nobody, between early morning and midnight, and leftduring the long hours to commune with his own thoughts. Which, never failing torevert to his kind friends, and the opinion they must long ago have formed ofhim, were sad indeed.

After the lapse of a week or so, the Jew left the room-door unlocked; and hewas at liberty to wander about the house.

It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great high woodenchimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls and cornices to theceiling; which, although they were black with neglect and dust, were ornamentedin various ways. From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a long timeago, before the old Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and hadperhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked now.

Spiders had built their webs in the angles of the walls and ceilings; andsometimes, when Oliver walked softly into a room, the mice would scamper acrossthe floor, and run back terrified to their holes. With these exceptions, therewas neither sight nor sound of any living thing; and often, when it grew dark,and he was tired of wandering from room to room, he would crouch in the cornerof the passage by the street-door, to be as near living people as he could; andwould remain there, listening and counting the hours, until the Jew or the boysreturned.

In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters were fast closed: the bars which heldthem were screwed tight into the wood; the only light which was admitted,stealing its way through round holes at the top: which made the rooms moregloomy, and filled them with strange shadows. There was a back-garret windowwith rusty bars outside, which had no shutter; and out of this, Oliver oftengazed with a melancholy face for hours together; but nothing was to be descriedfrom it but a confused and crowded mass of housetops, blackened chimneys, andgable-ends. Sometimes, indeed, a grizzly head might be seen, peering over theparapet-wall of a distant house; but it was quickly withdrawn again; and as thewindow of Oliver’s observatory was nailed down, and dimmed with the rainand smoke of years, it was as much as he could do to make out the forms of thedifferent objects beyond, without making any attempt to be seen orheard,—which he had as much chance of being, as if he had lived insidethe ball of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

One afternoon, the Dodger and Master Bates being engaged out that evening, thefirst-named young gentleman took it into his head to evince some anxietyregarding the decoration of his person (to do him justice, this was by no meansan habitual weakness with him); and, with this end and aim, he condescendinglycommanded Oliver to assist him in his toilet, straightway.

Oliver was but too glad to make himself useful; too happy to have some faces,however bad, to look upon; too desirous to conciliate those about him when hecould honestly do so; to throw any objection in the way of this proposal. So heat once expressed his readiness; and, kneeling on the floor, while the Dodgersat upon the table so that he could take his foot in his laps, he appliedhimself to a process which Mr. Dawkins designated as “japanning histrotter-cases.” The phrase, rendered into plain English, signifieth,cleaning his boots.

Whether it was the sense of freedom and independence which a rational animalmay be supposed to feel when he sits on a table in an easy attitude smoking apipe, swinging one leg carelessly to and fro, and having his boots cleaned allthe time, without even the past trouble of having taken them off, or theprospective misery of putting them on, to disturb his reflections; or whetherit was the goodness of the tobacco that soothed the feelings of the Dodger, orthe mildness of the beer that mollified his thoughts; he was evidentlytinctured, for the nonce, with a spice of romance and enthusiasm, foreign tohis general nature. He looked down on Oliver, with a thoughtful countenance,for a brief space; and then, raising his head, and heaving a gentle sign, said,half in abstraction, and half to Master Bates:

“What a pity it is he isn’t a prig!”

“Ah!” said Master Charles Bates; “he don’t knowwhat’s good for him.”

The Dodger sighed again, and resumed his pipe: as did Charley Bates. They bothsmoked, for some seconds, in silence.

“I suppose you don’t even know what a prig is?” said theDodger mournfully.

“I think I know that,” replied Oliver, looking up.“It’s a the—; you’re one, are you not?” inquiredOliver, checking himself.

“I am,” replied the Dodger. “I’d scorn to be anythingelse.” Mr. Dawkins gave his hat a ferocious cock, after delivering thissentiment, and looked at Master Bates, as if to denote that he would feelobliged by his saying anything to the contrary.

“I am,” repeated the Dodger. “So’s Charley. So’sFagin. So’s Sikes. So’s Nancy. So’s Bet. So we all are, downto the dog. And he’s the downiest one of the lot!”

“And the least given to peaching,” added Charley Bates.

“He wouldn’t so much as bark in a witness-box, for fear ofcommitting himself; no, not if you tied him up in one, and left him therewithout wittles for a fortnight,” said the Dodger.

“Not a bit of it,” observed Charley.

“He’s a rum dog. Don’t he look fierce at any strange covethat laughs or sings when he’s in company!” pursued the Dodger.“Won’t he growl at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! Anddon’t he hate other dogs as ain’t of his breed! Oh, no!”

“He’s an out-and-out Christian,” said Charley.

This was merely intended as a tribute to the animal’s abilities, but itwas an appropriate remark in another sense, if Master Bates had only known it;for there are a good many ladies and gentlemen, claiming to be out-and-outChristians, between whom, and Mr. Sikes’ dog, there exist strong andsingular points of resemblance.

“Well, well,” said the Dodger, recurring to the point from whichthey had strayed: with that mindfulness of his profession which influenced allhis proceedings. “This hasn’t go anything to do with young Greenhere.”

“No more it has,” said Charley. “Why don’t you putyourself under Fagin, Oliver?”

“And make your fortun’ out of hand?” added the Dodger, with agrin.

“And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-teel: as Imean to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever comes, and theforty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,” said Charley Bates.

“I don’t like it,” rejoined Oliver, timidly; “I wishthey would let me go. I—I—would rather go.”

“And Fagin would rather not!” rejoined Charley.

Oliver knew this too well; but thinking it might be dangerous to express hisfeelings more openly, he only sighed, and went on with his boot-cleaning.

“Go!” exclaimed the Dodger. “Why, where’s yourspirit?” Don’t you take any pride out of yourself? Would you go andbe dependent on your friends?”

“Oh, blow that!” said Master Bates: drawing two or three silkhandkerchiefs from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard,“that’s too mean; that is.”

I couldn’t do it,” said the Dodger, with an air ofhaughty disgust.

“You can leave your friends, though,” said Oliver with a halfsmile; “and let them be punished for what you did.”

“That,” rejoined the Dodger, with a wave of his pipe, “Thatwas all out of consideration for Fagin, ’cause the traps know that wework together, and he might have got into trouble if we hadn’t made ourlucky; that was the move, wasn’t it, Charley?”

Master Bates nodded assent, and would have spoken, but the recollection ofOliver’s flight came so suddenly upon him, that the smoke he was inhalinggot entangled with a laugh, and went up into his head, and down into histhroat: and brought on a fit of coughing and stamping, about five minutes long.

“Look here!” said the Dodger, drawing forth a handful of shillingsand halfpence. “Here’s a jolly life! What’s the odds where itcomes from? Here, catch hold; there’s plenty more where they were tookfrom. You won’t, won’t you? Oh, you precious flat!”

“It’s naughty, ain’t it, Oliver?” inquired CharleyBates. “He’ll come to be scragged, won’t he?”

“I don’t know what that means,” replied Oliver.

“Something in this way, old feller,” said Charly. As he said it,Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding it erect in theair, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked a curious sound through histeeth; thereby indicating, by a lively pantomimic representation, thatscragging and hanging were one and the same thing.

“That’s what it means,” said Charley. “Look how hestares, Jack!

I never did see such prime company as that ’ere boy; he’ll be thedeath of me, I know he will.” Master Charley Bates, having laughedheartily again, resumed his pipe with tears in his eyes.

“You’ve been brought up bad,” said the Dodger, surveying hisboots with much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them. “Fagin willmake something of you, though, or you’ll be the first he ever had thatturned out unprofitable. You’d better begin at once; for you’llcome to the trade long before you think of it; and you’re only losingtime, Oliver.”

Master Bates backed this advice with sundry moral admonitions of his own:which, being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkins launched into a glowingdescription of the numerous pleasures incidental to the life they led,interspersed with a variety of hints to Oliver that the best thing he could do,would be to secure Fagin’s favour without more delay, by the means whichthey themselves had employed to gain it.

“And always put this in your pipe, Nolly,” said the Dodger, as theJew was heard unlocking the door above, “if you don’t take fogelsand tickers—”

“What’s the good of talking in that way?” interposed MasterBates; “he don’t know what you mean.”

“If you don’t take pocket-handkechers and watches,” said theDodger, reducing his conversation to the level of Oliver’s capacity,“some other cove will; so that the coves that lose ’em will be allthe worse, and you’ll be all the worse, too, and nobody half aha’p’orth the better, except the chaps wot gets them—andyou’ve just as good a right to them as they have.”

“To be sure, to be sure!” said the Jew, who had entered unseen byOliver. “It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell, take theDodger’s word for it. Ha! ha! ha! He understands the catechism of histrade.”

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully together, as he corroborated theDodger’s reasoning in these terms; and chuckled with delight at hispupil’s proficiency.

The conversation proceeded no farther at this time, for the Jew had returnedhome accompanied by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whom Oliver had never seenbefore, but who was accosted by the Dodger as Tom Chitling; and who, havinglingered on the stairs to exchange a few gallantries with the lady, now madehis appearance.

Mr. Chitling was older in years than the Dodger: having perhaps numberedeighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference in his deportment towardsthat young gentleman which seemed to indicate that he felt himself conscious ofa slight inferiority in point of genius and professional aquirements. He hadsmall twinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a dark corduroyjacket, 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 ofhaving worn the regimentals for six weeks past, he had not been able to bestowany attention on his private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, with strong marks ofirritation, that the new way of fumigating clothes up yonder was infernalunconstitutional, for it burnt holes in them, and there was no remedy againstthe County. The same remark he considered to apply to the regulation mode ofcutting the hair: which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr. Chitling wound uphis observations by stating that he had not touched a drop of anything forforty-two moral long hard-working days; and that he “wished he might bebusted if he warn’t as dry as a lime-basket.”

“Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver?” inquiredthe 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 contemptuouslook at Oliver.

“A young friend of mine, my dear,” replied the Jew.

“He’s in luck, then,” said the young man, with a meaning lookat Fagin. “Never mind where I came from, young ’un; you’llfind your way there, soon enough, I’ll bet a crown!”

At this sally, the boys laughed. After some more jokes on the same subject,they exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin; and withdrew.

After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, they drew their chairstowards the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver to come and sit by him, led theconversation to the topics most calculated to interest his hearers. These were,the great advantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, theamiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jew himself. At lengththese subjects displayed signs of being thoroughly exhausted; and Mr. Chitlingdid the same: for the house of correction becomes fatiguing after a week ortwo. Miss Betsy accordingly withdrew; and left the party to their repose.

From this day, Oliver was seldom left alone; but was placed in almost constantcommunication with the two boys, who played the old game with the Jew everyday: whether for their own improvement or Oliver’s, Mr. Fagin best knew.At other times the old man would tell them stories of robberies he hadcommitted in his younger days: mixed up with so much that was droll andcurious, that Oliver could not help laughing heartily, and showing that he wasamused in spite of all his better feelings.

In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils. Having prepared his mind,by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the companionship of his ownsad thoughts in such a dreary place, he was now slowly instilling into his soulthe poison which he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue for ever.

It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew: buttoning his great-coat tightround his shrivelled body, and pulling the collar up over his ears so ascompletely to obscure the lower part of his face: emerged from his den. Hepaused on the step as the door was locked and chained behind him; and havinglistened while the boys made all secure, and until their retreating footstepswere no longer audible, slunk down the street as quickly as he could.

The house to which Oliver had been conveyed, was in the neighborhood ofWhitechapel. The Jew stopped for an instant at the corner of the street; and,glancing suspiciously round, crossed the road, and struck off in the directionof the Spitalfields.

The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over the streets; therain fell sluggishly down, and everything felt cold and clammy to the touch. Itseemed just the night when it befitted such a being as the Jew to be abroad. Ashe glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls anddoorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered inthe slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, insearch of some rich offal for a meal.

He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow ways, until he reachedBethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involvedin a maze of the mean and dirty streets which abound in that close anddensely-populated quarter.

The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversed to be at allbewildered, 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 inthis street, he knocked; having exchanged a few muttered words with the personwho opened it, he walked upstairs.

A dog growled as he touched the handle of a room-door; and a man’s voicedemanded who was there.

“Only me, Bill; only me, my dear,” said the Jew looking in.

“Bring in your body then,” said Sikes. “Lie down, you stupidbrute! Don’t you know the devil when he’s got a great-coaton?”

Apparently, the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin’s outergarment; 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 embarrassment to imply adoubt of its reception; for Mr. Fagin and his young friend had not met, sinceshe had interfered in behalf of Oliver. All doubts upon the subject, if he hadany, were speedily removed by the young lady’s behaviour. She took herfeet off the fender, pushed back her chair, and bade Fagin draw up his, withoutsaying more about it: for it was a cold night, and no mistake.

“It is cold, Nancy dear,” said the Jew, as he warmed his skinnyhands over the fire. “It seems to go right through one,” added theold man, touching his 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, makehaste! It’s enough to turn a man ill, to see his lean old carcaseshivering in that way, like a 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 withseveral kinds of liquids. Sikes pouring out a glass of brandy, bade the Jewdrink it off.

“Quite enough, quite, thankye, Bill,” replied the Jew, putting downthe glass after just setting his lips to it.

“What! You’re afraid of our getting the better of you, areyou?” inquired Sikes, fixing his eyes on the Jew. “Ugh!”

With a hoarse grunt of contempt, Mr. Sikes seized the glass, and threw theremainder of its contents into the ashes: as a preparatory ceremony to fillingit again for himself: which he did at once.

The Jew glanced round the room, as his companion tossed down the secondglassful; not in curiousity, for he had seen it often before; but in a restlessand suspicious manner habitual to him. It was a meanly furnished apartment,with nothing but the contents of the closet to induce the belief that itsoccupier was anything but a working man; and with no more suspicious articlesdisplayed to view than two or three heavy bludgeons which stood in a corner,and a “life-preserver” that hung over the chimney-piece.

“There,” said Sikes, smacking his lips. “Now I’mready.”

“For business?” inquired the Jew.

“For business,” replied Sikes; “so say what you’ve gotto say.”

“About the crib at Chertsey, Bill?” said the Jew, drawing his chairforward, and speaking in a very low voice.

“Yes. Wot about it?” inquired Sikes.

“Ah! you know what I mean, my dear,” said the Jew. “He knowswhat 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 rightnames; don’t sit there, winking and blinking, and talking to me in hints,as if you warn’t the very first that thought about the robbery. Wotd’ye mean?”

“Hush, Bill, hush!” said the Jew, who had in vain attempted to stopthis burst of indignation; “somebody will hear us, my dear. Somebody willhear us.”

“Let ’em hear!” said Sikes; “I don’t care.”But as Mr. Sikes did care, on reflection, he dropped his voice as hesaid the words, and grew calmer.

“There, there,” said the Jew, coaxingly. “It was only mycaution, nothing more. Now, my dear, about that crib at Chertsey; when is it tobe done, Bill, eh? When is it to be done? Such plate, my dear, suchplate!” said the Jew: rubbing his hands, and elevating his eyebrows in arapture 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 bea 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 youthat’s not to be told? I tell you that Toby Crackit has been hangingabout the place for a fortnight, and he can’t get one of the servants inline.”

“Do you mean to tell me, Bill,” said the Jew: softening as theother grew heated: “that neither of the two men in the house can be gotover?”

“Yes, I do mean to tell you so,” replied Sikes. “The old ladyhas had ’em these twenty years; and if you were to give ’em fivehundred pound, they wouldn’t 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 sayshe’s worn sham whiskers, and a canary waistcoat, the whole blessed timehe’s been loitering down there, and it’s all of no use.”

“He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers, mydear,” said the Jew.

“So he did,” rejoined Sikes, “and they warn’t of nomore use than the other plant.”

The Jew looked blank at this information. After ruminating for some minuteswith his chin sunk on his breast, he raised his head and said, with a deepsigh, that if flash Toby Crackit reported aright, he feared the game was up.

“And yet,” said the old man, dropping his hands on his knees,“it’s a sad thing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set ourhearts upon it.”

“So it is,” said Mr. Sikes. “Worse luck!”

A long silence ensued; during which the Jew was plunged in deep thought, withhis face wrinkled into an expression of villainy perfectly demoniacal. Sikeseyed him furtively from time to time. Nancy, apparently fearful of irritatingthe housebreaker, sat with her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had beendeaf to all that passed.

“Fagin,” said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness thatprevailed; “is it worth fifty shiners extra, if it’s safely donefrom the outside?”

“Yes,” said the Jew, as suddenly rousing himself.

“Is it a bargain?” inquired Sikes.

“Yes, my dear, yes,” rejoined the Jew; his eyes glistening, andevery muscle in his face working, with the excitement that the inquiry hadawakened.

“Then,” said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew’s hand, with somedisdain, “let it come off as soon as you like. Toby and me were over thegarden-wall the night afore last, sounding the panels of the door and shutters.The crib’s barred up at night like a jail; but there’s one part wecan crack, safe and softly.”

“Which is that, Bill?” asked the Jew eagerly.

“Why,” whispered Sikes, “as you cross the lawn—”

“Yes?” said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyes almoststarting out of it.

“Umph!” cried Sikes, stopping short, as the girl, scarcely movingher head, looked suddenly round, and pointed for an instant to the Jew’sface. “Never mind which part it is. You can’t do it without me, Iknow; but it’s best to be on the safe side when one deals withyou.”

“As you like, my dear, as you like” replied the Jew. “Isthere no help wanted, but yours and Toby’s?”

“None,” said Sikes. “Cept a centre-bit and a boy. The firstwe’ve both got; the second you must find us.”

“A boy!” exclaimed the Jew. “Oh! then it’s a panel,eh?”

“Never mind wot it is!” replied Sikes. “I want a boy, and hemusn’t be a big ’un. Lord!” said Mr. Sikes, reflectively,“if I’d only got that young boy of Ned, thechimbley-sweeper’s! He kept him small on purpose, and let him out by thejob. But the father gets lagged; and then the Juvenile Delinquent Societycomes, and takes the boy away from a trade where he was earning money, teacheshim to read and write, and in time makes a ’prentice of him. And so theygo on,” said Mr. Sikes, his wrath rising with the recollection of hiswrongs, “so they go on; and, if they’d got money enough (whichit’s a Providence they haven’t,) we shouldn’t have half adozen boys left in the whole trade, in a year or two.”

“No more we should,” acquiesced the Jew, who had been consideringduring this speech, and had only caught the last sentence. “Bill!”

“What now?” inquired Sikes.

The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing at the fire; andintimated, by a sign, that he would have her told to leave the room. Sikesshrugged his shoulders impatiently, as if he thought the precautionunnecessary; but complied, nevertheless, by requesting Miss Nancy to fetch hima jug of beer.

“You don’t want any beer,” said Nancy, folding her arms, andretaining her seat very composedly.

“I tell you I do!” replied Sikes.

“Nonsense,” rejoined the girl coolly, “Go on, Fagin. I knowwhat he’s going to say, Bill; he needn’t mind me.”

The Jew still hesitated. Sikes looked from one to the other in some surprise.

“Why, you don’t mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?” he askedat length. “You’ve known her long enough to trust her, or theDevil’s in it. She ain’t one to blab. Are you Nancy?”

I should think not!” replied the young lady: drawing herchair up to the table, and putting her elbows upon it.

“No, no, my dear, I know you’re not,” said the Jew;“but—” and again the old man paused.

“But wot?” inquired Sikes.

“I didn’t know whether she mightn’t p’r’aps beout of sorts, you know, my dear, as she was the other night,” replied theJew.

At this confession, Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh; and, swallowing a glassof brandy, shook her head with an air of defiance, and burst into sundryexclamations of “Keep the game a-going!” “Never saydie!” and the like. These seemed to have the effect of re-assuring bothgentlemen; for the Jew nodded his head with a satisfied air, and resumed hisseat: as did Mr. Sikes likewise.

“Now, Fagin,” said Nancy with a laugh. “Tell Bill at once,about Oliver!”

“Ha! you’re a clever one, my dear: the sharpest girl I eversaw!” said the Jew, patting her on the neck. “It was aboutOliver I was going to speak, sure enough. Ha! ha! ha!”

“What about him?” demanded Sikes.

“He’s the boy for you, my dear,” replied the Jew in a hoarsewhisper; laying his finger on the side of his nose, and grinning frightfully.

“He!” exclaimed Sikes.

“Have him, Bill!” said Nancy. “I would, if I was in yourplace. He mayn’t be so much up, as any of the others; but that’snot what you want, if he’s only to open a door for you. Depend upon ithe’s a safe one, Bill.”

“I know he is,” rejoined Fagin. “He’s been in goodtraining these last few weeks, and it’s time he began to work for hisbread. Besides, the others are all too big.”

“Well, he is just the size I want,” said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.

“And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear,” interposed theJew; “he can’t help himself. That is, if you frighten himenough.”

“Frighten him!” echoed Sikes. “It’ll be no shamfrightening, mind you. If there’s anything queer about him when we onceget into the work; in for a penny, in for a pound. You won’t see himalive again, Fagin. Think of that, before you send him. Mark my words!”said the robber, poising a crowbar, which he had drawn from under the bedstead.

“I’ve thought of it all,” said the Jew with energy.“I’ve—I’ve had my eye upon him, my dears,close—close. Once let him feel that he is one of us; once fill his mindwith the idea that he has been a thief; and he’s ours! Ours for his life.Oho! It couldn’t have come about better!” The old man crossed hisarms upon his breast; and, drawing his head and shoulders into a heap,literally hugged himself for joy.

“Ours!” said Sikes. “Yours, you mean.”

“Perhaps I do, my dear,” said the Jew, with a shrill chuckle.“Mine, if you like, Bill.”

“And wot,” said Sikes, scowling fiercely on his agreeable friend,“wot makes you take so much pains about one chalk-faced kid, when youknow there are fifty boys snoozing about Common Garden every night, as youmight pick and choose from?”

“Because they’re of no use to me, my dear,” replied the Jew,with some confusion, “not worth the taking. Their looks convict ’emwhen they get into trouble, and I lose ’em all. With this boy, properlymanaged, my dears, I could do what I couldn’t with twenty of them.Besides,” said the Jew, recovering his self-possession, “he has usnow if he could only give us leg-bail again; and he must be in the same boatwith us. Never mind how he came there; it’s quite enough for my powerover him that he was in a robbery; that’s all I want. Now, how muchbetter this is, than being obliged to put the poor leetle boy out of theway—which would be dangerous, and we should lose by it besides.”

“When is it to be done?” asked Nancy, stopping some turbulentexclamation on the part of Mr. Sikes, expressive of the disgust with which hereceived Fagin’s affectation of humanity.

“Ah, to be sure,” said the Jew; “when is it to be done,Bill?”

“I planned with Toby, the night arter to-morrow,” rejoined Sikes ina surly voice, “if he heerd nothing from me to the contrairy.”

“Good,” said the Jew; “there’s no moon.”

“No,” rejoined Sikes.

“It’s all arranged about bringing off the swag, is it?” askedthe Jew.

Sikes nodded.

“And about—”

“Oh, ah, it’s all planned,” rejoined Sikes, interrupting him.“Never mind particulars. You’d better bring the boy here to-morrownight. I shall get off the stone an hour arter daybreak. Then you hold yourtongue, and keep the melting-pot ready, and that’s all you’ll haveto do.”

After some discussion, in which all three took an active part, it was decidedthat Nancy should repair to the Jew’s next evening when the night had setin, and bring Oliver away with her; Fagin craftily observing, that, if heevinced any disinclination to the task, he would be more willing to accompanythe girl who had so recently interfered in his behalf, than anybody else. Itwas also solemnly arranged that poor Oliver should, for the purposes of thecontemplated expedition, be unreservedly consigned to the care and custody ofMr. William Sikes; and further, that the said Sikes should deal with him as hethought fit; and should not be held responsible by the Jew for any mischance orevil that might be necessary to visit him: it being understood that, to renderthe compact in this respect binding, any representations made by Mr. Sikes onhis return should be required to be confirmed and corroborated, in allimportant particulars, by the testimony of flash Toby Crackit.

These preliminaries adjusted, Mr. Sikes proceeded to drink brandy at a furiousrate, and to flourish the crowbar in an alarming manner; yelling forth, at thesame time, most unmusical snatches of song, mingled with wild execrations. Atlength, in a fit of professional enthusiasm, he insisted upon producing his boxof housebreaking tools: which he had no sooner stumbled in with, and opened forthe purpose of explaining the nature and properties of the various implementsit contained, and the peculiar beauties of their construction, than he fellover the box upon the floor, and went to sleep where he fell.

“Good-night, Nancy,” said the Jew, muffling himself up as before.

“Good-night.”

Their eyes met, and the Jew scrutinised her, narrowly. There was no flinchingabout the girl. She was as true and earnest in the matter as Toby Crackithimself could be.

The Jew again bade her good-night, and, bestowing a sly kick upon the prostrateform of Mr. Sikes while her back was turned, groped downstairs.

“Always the way!” muttered the Jew to himself as he turnedhomeward. “The worst of these women is, that a very little thing servesto call up some long-forgotten feeling; and, the best of them is, that it neverlasts. Ha! ha! The man against the child, for a bag of gold!”

Beguiling the time with these pleasant reflections, Mr. Fagin wended his way,through mud and mire, to his gloomy abode: where the Dodger was sitting up,impatiently awaiting his return.

“Is Oliver a-bed? I want to speak to him,” was his first remark asthey descended the stairs.

“Hours ago,” replied the Dodger, throwing open a door. “Herehe is!”

The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor; so pale withanxiety, and sadness, and the closeness of his prison, that he looked likedeath; not death as it shows in shroud and coffin, but in the guise it wearswhen life has just departed; when a young and gentle spirit has, but aninstant, fled to Heaven, and the gross air of the world has not had time tobreathe upon the changing dust it hallowed.

“Not now,” said the Jew, turning softly away. “To-morrow.To-morrow.”

When Oliver awoke in the morning, he was a good deal surprised to find that anew pair of shoes, with strong thick soles, had been placed at his bedside; andthat his old shoes had been removed. At first, he was pleased with thediscovery: hoping that it might be the forerunner of his release; but suchthoughts were quickly dispelled, on his sitting down to breakfast along withthe Jew, who told him, in a tone and manner which increased his alarm, that hewas to be taken to the residence of Bill Sikes that night.

“To—to—stop there, sir?” asked Oliver, anxiously.

“No, no, my dear. Not to stop there,” replied the Jew. “Weshouldn’t like to lose you. Don’t be afraid, Oliver, you shall comeback to us again. Ha! ha! ha! We won’t be so cruel as to send you away,my dear. Oh no, no!”

The old man, who was stooping over the fire toasting a piece of bread, lookedround as he bantered Oliver thus; and chuckled as if to show that he knew hewould still be very glad to get away if he could.

“I suppose,” said the Jew, fixing his eyes on Oliver, “youwant to know what you’re going to Bill’s for—-eh, mydear?”

Oliver coloured, involuntarily, to find that the old thief had been reading histhoughts; but boldly said, Yes, he did want to know.

“Why, do you think?” inquired Fagin, parrying the question.

“Indeed I don’t know, sir,” replied Oliver.

“Bah!” said the Jew, turning away with a disappointed countenancefrom a close perusal of the boy’s face. “Wait till Bill tells you,then.”

The Jew seemed much vexed by Oliver’s not expressing any greatercuriosity on the subject; but the truth is, that, although Oliver felt veryanxious, he was too much confused by the earnest cunning of Fagin’slooks, and his own speculations, to make any further inquiries just then. Hehad no other opportunity: for the Jew remained very surly and silent tillnight: when he prepared to go abroad.

“You may burn a candle,” said the Jew, putting one upon the table.“And here’s a book for you to read, till they come to fetch you.Good-night!”

“Good-night!” replied Oliver, softly.

The Jew walked to the door: looking over his shoulder at the boy as he went.Suddenly stopping, he called him by his name.

Oliver looked up; the Jew, pointing to the candle, motioned him to light it. Hedid so; and, as he placed the candlestick upon the table, saw that the Jew wasgazing fixedly at him, with lowering and contracted brows, from the dark end ofthe room.

“Take heed, Oliver! take heed!” said the old man, shaking his righthand before him in a warning manner. “He’s a rough man, and thinksnothing of blood when his own is up. Whatever falls out, say nothing; and dowhat he bids you. Mind!” Placing a strong emphasis on the last word, hesuffered his features gradually to resolve themselves into a ghastly grin, and,nodding his head, left the room.

Oliver leaned his head upon his hand when the old man disappeared, andpondered, with a trembling heart, on the words he had just heard. The more hethought of the Jew’s admonition, the more he was at a loss to divine itsreal purpose and meaning.

He could think of no bad object to be attained by sending him to Sikes, whichwould not be equally well answered by his remaining with Fagin; and aftermeditating for a long time, concluded that he had been selected to perform someordinary menial offices for the housebreaker, until another boy, better suitedfor his purpose could be engaged. He was too well accustomed to suffering, andhad suffered too much where he was, to bewail the prospect of change veryseverely. He remained lost in thought for some minutes; and then, with a heavysigh, snuffed the candle, and, taking up the book which the Jew had left withhim, began to read.

He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on a passagewhich attracted his attention, he soon became intent upon the volume. It was ahistory of the lives and trials of great criminals; and the pages were soiledand thumbed with use. Here, he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood runcold; of secret murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; ofbodies hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which would not keepthem down, deep as they were, but had yielded them up at last, after manyyears, and so maddened the murderers with the sight, that in their horror theyhad confessed their guilt, and yelled for the gibbet to end their agony. Here,too, he read of men who, lying in their beds at dead of night, had been tempted(so they said) and led on, by their own bad thoughts, to such dreadfulbloodshed as it made the flesh creep, and the limbs quail, to think of. Theterrible descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed toturn red with gore; and the words upon them, to be sounded in his ears, as ifthey were whispered, in hollow murmurs, by the spirits of the dead.

In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it from him. Then,falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to spare him from such deeds; andrather to will that he should die at once, than be reserved for crimes, sofearful and appalling. By degrees, he grew more calm, and besought, in a lowand broken voice, that he might be rescued from his present dangers; and thatif any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who had never known thelove of friends or kindred, it might come to him now, when, desolate anddeserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt.

He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head buried in hishands, when a rustling noise aroused him.

“What’s that!” he cried, starting up, and catching sight of afigure 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 wasNancy.

“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. Thegirl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him: and wrung herhands; but made no reply.

“God forgive me!” she cried after a while, “I never thoughtof this.”

“Has anything happened?” asked Oliver. “Can I help you? Iwill if I can. I will, indeed.”

She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a gurglingsound, gasped for breath.

“Nancy!” cried Oliver, “What is it?”

The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the ground; 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 alittle time, without speaking; but at length she raised her head, and lookedround.

“I don’t know what comes over me sometimes,” said she,affecting to busy herself in arranging her dress; “it’s this dampdirty 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. “You are togo with me.”

“What for?” asked Oliver, recoiling.

“What for?” echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting themagain, the moment they encountered the boy’s face. “Oh! For noharm.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Oliver: who had watched herclosely.

“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 helplessstate. But, then, the thought darted across his mind that it was barely eleveno’clock; and that many people were still in the streets: of whom surelysome might be found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured tohim, he stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was ready.

Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his companion.She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon him a look of intelligencewhich sufficiently showed that she guessed what had been passing in histhoughts.

“Hush!” said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the dooras she looked cautiously round. “You can’t help yourself. I havetried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round and round. Ifever 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 greatsurprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her countenance was white andagitated; and she trembled with very earnestness.

“I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and I donow,” continued the girl aloud; “for those who would have fetchedyou, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have promised foryour being quiet and silent; if you are not, you will only do harm to yourselfand me too, and perhaps be my death. See here! I have borne all this for youalready, as true as God sees me show it.”

She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms; andcontinued, with great rapidity:

“Remember this! And don’t let me suffer more for you, just now. IfI could help you, I would; but I have not the power. They don’t mean toharm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of yours. Hush! Every wordfrom 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 outthe light, drew him after her up the stairs. The door was opened, quickly, bysome one shrouded in the darkness, and was as quickly closed, when they hadpassed out. A hackney-cabriolet was in waiting; with the same vehemence whichshe had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in with her, anddrew the curtains close. The driver wanted no directions, but lashed his horseinto full speed, without the delay of an instant.

The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to pour into hisear, the warnings and assurances she had already imparted. All was so quick andhurried, that he had scarcely time to recollect where he was, or how he camethere, when the carriage stopped at the house to which the Jew’s stepshad been directed on the previous evening.

For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the empty street, anda 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 theheart to utter it. While he hesitated, the opportunity was gone; he was alreadyin 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 acandle. “Oh! That’s the time of day. Come on!”

This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly hearty welcome,from a person of Mr. Sikes’ temperament. Nancy, appearing much gratifiedthereby, saluted him cordially.

“Bull’s-eye’s gone home with Tom,” observed Sikes, ashe 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 reachedthe 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 forit. Come here, young ’un; and let me read you a lectur’, which isas well got over at once.”

Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver’s cap andthrew it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat himself downby the table, and stood the boy in front of him.

“Now, first: do you know wot this is?” inquired Sikes, taking up apocket-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 forwaddin’.”

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.

“Well,” said the robber, grasping Oliver’s wrist, and puttingthe barrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which moment the boycould not repress a start; “if you speak a word when you’re outo’doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in yourhead without notice. So, if you do make up your mind to speak withoutleave, say your prayers first.”

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to increase itseffect, Mr. Sikes continued.

“As near as I know, there isn’t anybody as would be asking verypartickler arter you, if you was disposed of; so I needn’t takethis devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if it warn’t foryour own good. D’ye hear me?”

“The short and the long of what you mean,” said Nancy: speakingvery emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to bespeak his seriousattention to her words: “is, that if you’re crossed by him in thisjob you have on hand, you’ll prevent his ever telling tales afterwards,by shooting him through the head, and will take your chance of swinging for it,as you do for a great many other things in the way of business, every month ofyour life.”

“That’s it!” observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; “womencan 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 before starting.”

In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth; disappearing for afew minutes, she presently returned with a pot of porter and a dish ofsheep’s heads: which gave occasion to several pleasant witticisms on thepart of Mr. Sikes, founded upon the singular coincidence of“jemmies” being a can name, common to them, and also to aningenious implement much used in his profession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman,stimulated perhaps by the immediate prospect of being on active service, was ingreat spirits and good humour; in proof whereof, it may be here remarked, thathe humourously drank all the beer at a draught, and did not utter, on a roughcalculation, more than four-score oaths during the whole progress of the meal.

Supper being ended—it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no greatappetite for it—Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses of spirits andwater, and threw himself on the bed; ordering Nancy, with many imprecations incase of failure, to call him at five precisely. Oliver stretched himself in hisclothes, by command of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; andthe girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse them at theappointed time.

For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that Nancy mightseek that opportunity of whispering some further advice; but the girl satbrooding 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 thrustingvarious articles into the pockets of his great-coat, which hung over the backof a chair. Nancy was busily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not yetdaylight; for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside. Asharp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes; and the sky looked blackand cloudy.

“Now, then!” growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; “half-pastfive! Look sharp, or you’ll get no breakfast; for it’s late as itis.”

Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken some breakfast, hereplied 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 histhroat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button over his shoulders. Thusattired, he gave his hand to the robber, who, merely pausing to show him with amenacing gesture that he had that same pistol in a side-pocket of hisgreat-coat, clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy,led him away.

Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in the hope ofmeeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed her old seat in front of thefire, and sat, perfectly motionless before it.

It was a cheerless morning when they got into the street; blowing and raininghard; and the clouds looking dull and stormy. The night had been very wet:large pools of water had collected in the road: and the kennels wereoverflowing. There was a faint glimmering of the coming day in the sky; but itrather aggravated than relieved the gloom of the scene: the sombre light onlyserving to pale that which the street lamps afforded, without shedding anywarmer or brighter tints upon the wet house-tops, and dreary streets. Thereappeared to be nobody stirring in that quarter of the town; the windows of thehouses were all closely shut; and the streets through which they passed, werenoiseless and empty.

By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the day had fairlybegun to break. Many of the lamps were already extinguished; a few countrywaggons were slowly toiling on, towards London; now and then, a stage-coach,covered with mud, rattled briskly by: the driver bestowing, as he passed, anadmonitory lash upon the heavy waggoner who, by keeping on the wrong side ofthe road, had endangered his arriving at the office, a quarter of a minuteafter his time. The public-houses, with gas-lights burning inside, were alreadyopen. By degrees, other shops began to be unclosed, and a few scattered peoplewere met with. Then, came straggling groups of labourers going to their work;then, men and women with fish-baskets on their heads; donkey-carts laden withvegetables; chaise-carts filled with live-stock or whole carcasses of meat;milk-women with pails; an unbroken concourse of people, trudging out withvarious supplies to the eastern suburbs of the town. As they approached theCity, the noise and traffic gradually increased; when they threaded the streetsbetween Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled into a roar of sound andbustle. It was as light as it was likely to be, till night came on again, andthe busy morning of half the London population had begun.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury square, 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 discordantsounds that filled Oliver Twist with amazement.

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filthand mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of thecattle, 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 manytemporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled withsheep; 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 mass; thewhistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen,the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries ofhawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bellsand roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing,driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim thatresounded 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 thethrong; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confoundedthe senses.

Mr. Sikes, dragging Oliver after him, elbowed his way through the thickest ofthe crowd, and bestowed very little attention on the numerous sights andsounds, which so astonished the boy. He nodded, twice or thrice, to a passingfriend; and, resisting as many invitations to take a morning dram, pressedsteadily onward, until they were clear of the turmoil, and had made their waythrough Hosier Lane into Holborn.

“Now, young ’un!” said Sikes, looking up at the clock of St.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 jerk at his little companion’swrist; Oliver, quickening his pace into a kind of trot between a fast walk anda run, kept up with the rapid strides of the house-breaker as well as he could.

They held their course at this rate, until they had passed Hyde Park corner,and were on their way to Kensington: when Sikes relaxed his pace, until anempty cart which was at some little distance behind, came up. Seeing“Hounslow” written on it, he asked the driver with as much civilityas 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’s 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, myman?” inquired the driver: seeing that Oliver was out of breath.

“Not a bit of it,” replied Sikes, interposing. “He’sused to it. Here, take hold of my hand, Ned. In with you!”

Thus addressing Oliver, he helped him into the cart; and the driver, pointingto a heap of sacks, told him to lie down there, and rest himself.

As they passed the different mile-stones, Oliver wondered, more and more, wherehis companion meant to take him. Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge,Brentford, were all passed; and yet they went on as steadily as if they hadonly just begun their journey. At length, they came to a public-house calledthe Coach and Horses; a little way beyond which, another road appeared to runoff. And here, the cart stopped.

Sikes dismounted with great precipitation, holding Oliver by the hand all thewhile; and lifting him down directly, bestowed a furious look upon him, andrapped the side-pocket with his fist, in a significant manner.

“Good-bye, 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 until he had fairly gone; and then, telling Oliver he might lookabout him if he wanted, once again led him onward 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 gardensand gentlemen’s houses on both sides of the way, and stopping for nothingbut a little beer, until they reached a town. Here against the wall of a house,Oliver saw written up in pretty large letters, “Hampton.” Theylingered about, in the fields, for some hours. At length they came back intothe town; and, turning into an old public-house with a defaced sign-board,ordered some dinner by the kitchen fire.

The kitchen was an old, low-roofed room; with a great beam across the middle ofthe ceiling, and benches, with high backs to them, by the fire; on which wereseated several rough men in smock-frocks, drinking and smoking. They took nonotice of Oliver; and very little of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very littlenotice of them, he and his young comrade sat in a corner by themselves, withoutbeing much troubled by their company.

They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat so long after it, while Mr. Sikesindulged himself with three or four pipes, that Oliver began to feel quitecertain they were not going any further. Being much tired with the walk, andgetting up so early, he dozed a little at first; then, quite overpowered byfatigue and the fumes of the tobacco, fell asleep.

It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes. Rousing himselfsufficiently to sit up and look about him, he found that worthy in closefellowship and communication with a labouring man, over a pint of ale.

“So, you’re going on to Lower Halliford, are you?” inquiredSikes.

“Yes, I am,” replied the man, who seemed a little theworse—or better, as the case might be—for drinking; “and notslow about it neither. My horse hasn’t got a load behind him going back,as he had coming up in the mornin’; and he won’t be long a-doing ofit. Here’s luck to him. Ecod! he’s a good ’un!”

“Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there?” demandedSikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.

“If you’re going directly, I can,” replied the man, lookingout of the pot. “Are you going to Halliford?”

“Going on to Shepperton,” replied Sikes.

“I’m your man, as far as I go,” replied the other. “Isall paid, Becky?”

“Yes, the other gentleman’s paid,” replied the girl.

“I say!” said the man, with tipsy gravity; “that won’tdo, you know.”

“Why not?” rejoined Sikes. “You’re a-going toaccommodate 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; havingdone so, he 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, therewould 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, andlounging 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 furtherceremony; and the man to whom he belonged, having lingered for a minute or two“to bear him up,” and to defy the hostler and the world to producehis equal, mounted also. Then, the hostler was told to give the horse his head;and, his head being given him, he made a very unpleasant use of it: tossing itinto the air with great disdain, and running into the parlour windows over theway; after performing those feats, and supporting himself for a short time onhis hind-legs, he started off at great speed, and rattled out of the town rightgallantly.

The night was very dark. A damp mist rose from the river, and the marshy groundabout; and spread itself over the dreary fields. It was piercing cold, too; allwas 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 huddledtogether, in a corner of the cart; bewildered with alarm and apprehension; andfiguring strange objects in the gaunt trees, whose branches waved grimly to andfro, 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 theferry-house window opposite: which streamed across the road, and threw intomore sombre shadow a dark yew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dullsound of falling water not far off; and the leaves of the old tree stirredgently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for the repose of thedead.

Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonely road. Two orthree miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikes alighted, took Oliver by thehand, and they once again walked on.

They turned into no house at Shepperton, as the weary boy had expected; butstill kept walking on, in mud and darkness, through gloomy lanes and over coldopen wastes, until they came within sight of the lights of a town at no greatdistance. On looking intently forward, Oliver saw that the water was just belowthem, and that they were coming to the foot of a bridge.

Sikes kept straight on, until they were close upon the bridge; then turnedsuddenly down a bank upon the left.

“The water!” thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. “He hasbrought me to this lonely place to murder me!”

He was about to throw himself on the ground, and make one struggle for hisyoung life, when he saw that they stood before a solitary house: all ruinousand decayed. There was a window on each side of the dilapidated entrance; andone story above; but no light was visible. The house was dark, dismantled: andthe all appearance, uninhabited.

Sikes, with Oliver’s hand still in his, softly approached the low porch,and raised the latch. The door yielded to the pressure, and they passed intogether.

“Hallo!” cried a loud, hoarse voice, as soon as they set foot inthe passage.

“Don’t make such a row,” said Sikes, bolting the door.“Show a glim, Toby.”

“Aha! my pal!” cried the same voice. “A glim, Barney, a glim!Show the gentleman in, Barney; wake up first, if convenient.”

The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article, at the personhe 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 manbetween sleep and awake.

“Do you hear?” cried the same voice. “There’s BillSikes in the passage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleepingthere, as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothing stronger. Are youany fresher now, or do you want the iron candlestick to wake youthoroughly?”

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 beenheretofore described as labouring under the infirmity of speaking through hisnose, 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 ofhim. “Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels.”

Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver before him; and theyentered 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 manwas reposing at full length, smoking a long clay pipe. He was dressed in asmartly-cut snuff-coloured coat, with large brass buttons; an orangeneckerchief; a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat; and drab breeches. Mr.Crackit (for he it was) had no very great quantity of hair, either upon hishead or face; but what he had, was of a reddish dye, and tortured into longcorkscrew curls, through which he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers,ornamented with large common rings. He was a trifle above the middle size, andapparently rather weak in the legs; but this circumstance by no means detractedfrom his own admiration of his top-boots, which he contemplated, in theirelevated situation, with lively satisfaction.

“Bill, my boy!” said this figure, turning his head towards thedoor, “I’m glad to see you. I was almost afraid you’d givenit 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 onOliver, Mr. Toby Crackit brought himself into a sitting posture, and demandedwho that was.

“The boy. Only the boy!” replied Sikes, drawing a chair towards thefire.

“Wud of Bister Fagid’s lads,” exclaimed Barney, with a grin.

“Fagin’s, eh!” exclaimed Toby, looking at Oliver. “Wotan inwalable boy that’ll make, for the old ladies’ pockets inchapels! His mug is a fortin’ to him.”

“There—there’s enough of that,” interposed Sikes,impatiently; and stooping over his recumbant friend, he whispered a few wordsin his ear: at which Mr. Crackit laughed immensely, and honoured Oliver with along stare of astonishment.

“Now,” said Sikes, as he resumed his seat, “if you’llgive us something to eat and drink while we’re waiting, you’ll putsome heart in us; or in me, at all events. Sit down by the fire, younker, andrest yourself; for you’ll have to go out with us again to-night, thoughnot very far off.”

Oliver looked at Sikes, in mute and timid wonder; and drawing a stool to thefire, sat with his aching head upon his hands, scarecely 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 tohonour 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’sface; “indeed, I—”

“Down with it!” echoed Toby. “Do you think I don’t knowwhat’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 ofDodgers. Drink it, you perwerse imp; drink it!”

Frightened by the menacing gestures of the two men, Oliver hastily swallowedthe 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 surlyMr. Sikes.

This done, and Sikes having satisfied his appetite (Oliver could eat nothingbut a small crust of bread which they made him swallow), the two men laidthemselves down on chairs for a short nap. Oliver retained his stool by thefire; Barney wrapped in a blanket, stretched himself on the floor: closeoutside the fender.

They slept, or appeared to sleep, for some time; nobody stirring but Barney,who rose once or twice to throw coals on the fire. Oliver fell into a heavydoze: imagining himself straying along the gloomy lanes, or wandering about thedark churchyard, or retracing some one or other of the scenes of the past day:when he was roused by Toby Crackit jumping up and declaring it was half-pastone.

In an instant, the other two were on their legs, and all were actively engagedin busy preparation. Sikes and his companion enveloped their necks and chins inlarge dark shawls, and drew on their great-coats; 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. “Thepersuaders?”

“I’ve got ’em,” replied Sikes.

“Crape, keys, centre-bits, darkies—nothing forgotten?”inquired Toby: fastening a small crowbar to a loop inside the skirt of hiscoat.

“All right,” rejoined his companion. “Bring them bits oftimber, Barney. That’s the time of day.”

With these words, he took a thick stick from Barney’s hands, who, havingdelivered 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, and the air, andthe drink which had been forced upon him: put his hand mechanically into thatwhich Sikes extended for the purpose.

“Take his other hand, Toby,” said Sikes. “Look out,Barney.”

The man went to the door, and returned to announce that all was quiet. The tworobbers issued forth with Oliver between them. Barney, having made all fast,rolled himself up as before, and was soon asleep again.

It was now intensely dark. The fog was much heavier than it had been in theearly part of the night; and the atmosphere was so damp, that, although no rainfell, Oliver’s hair and eyebrows, within a few minutes after leaving thehouse, had become stiff with the half-frozen moisture that was floating about.They crossed the bridge, and kept on towards the lights which he had seenbefore. They were at no great distance off; and, as they walked pretty briskly,they soon arrived at Chertsey.

“Slap through the town,” whispered Sikes; “there’ll benobody in the way, to-night, to see us.”

Toby acquiesced; and they hurried through the main street of the little town,which at that late hour was wholly deserted. A dim light shone at intervalsfrom some bed-room window; and the hoarse barking of dogs occasionally brokethe silence of the night. But there was nobody abroad. They had cleared thetown, as the church-bell struck two.

Quickening their pace, they turned up a road upon the left hand. After walkingabout a quarter of a mile, they stopped before a detached house surrounded by awall: to the top of which, Toby Crackit, scarcely pausing to take breath,climbed in a twinkling.

“The boy next,” said Toby. “Hoist him up; I’ll catchhold of him.”

Before Oliver had time to look round, Sikes had caught him under the arms; andin three or four seconds he and Toby were lying on the grass on the other side.Sikes followed directly. And they stole cautiously towards the house.

And now, for the first time, Oliver, well-nigh mad with grief and terror, sawthat housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were the objects of theexpedition. He clasped his hands together, and involuntarily uttered a subduedexclamation of horror. A mist came before his eyes; the cold sweat stood uponhis ashy face; his limbs failed him; and he sank upon his knees.

“Get up!” murmured Sikes, trembling with rage, and drawing thepistol from his pocket; “Get up, or I’ll strew your brains upon thegrass.”

“Oh! for God’s sake let me go!” cried Oliver; “let merun away and die in the fields. I will never come near London; never, never!Oh! pray have mercy on me, and do not make me steal. For the love of all thebright Angels that rest in Heaven, have mercy upon me!”

The man to whom this appeal was made, swore a dreadful oath, and had cocked thepistol, when Toby, striking it from his grasp, placed his hand upon theboy’s mouth, and dragged him to the house.

“Hush!” cried the man; “it won’t answer here. Sayanother word, and I’ll do your business myself with a crack on the head.That makes no noise, and is quite as certain, and more genteel. Here, Bill,wrench the shutter open. He’s game enough now, I’ll engage.I’ve seen older hands of his age took the same way, for a minute or two,on a cold night.”

Sikes, invoking terrific imprecations upon Fagin’s head for sendingOliver on such an errand, plied the crowbar vigorously, but with little noise.After some delay, and some assistance from Toby, the shutter to which he hadreferred, swung open on its hinges.

It was a little lattice window, about five feet and a half above the ground, atthe back of the house: which belonged to a scullery, or small brewing-place, atthe end of the passage. The aperture was so small, that the inmates hadprobably not thought it worth while to defend it more securely; but it waslarge enough to admit a boy of Oliver’s size, nevertheless. A very briefexercise of Mr. Sike’s art, sufficed to overcome the fastening of thelattice; and it soon stood wide open also.

“Now listen, you young limb,” whispered Sikes, drawing a darklantern from his pocket, and throwing the glare full on Oliver’s face;“I’m a going to put you through there. Take this light; go softlyup the steps straight afore you, and along the little hall, to the street door;unfasten it, and let us in.”

“There’s a bolt at the top, you won’t be able toreach,” interposed Toby. “Stand upon one of the hall chairs. Thereare three there, Bill, with a jolly large blue unicorn and gold pitchfork on’em: which is the old lady’s arms.”

“Keep quiet, can’t you?” replied Sikes, with a threateninglook. “The room-door is open, is it?”

“Wide,” replied Toby, after peeping in to satisfy himself.“The game of that is, that they always leave it open with a catch, sothat the dog, who’s got a bed in here, may walk up and down the passagewhen he feels wakeful. Ha! ha! Barney ’ticed him away to-night. Soneat!”

Although Mr. Crackit spoke in a scarcely audible whisper, and laughed withoutnoise, Sikes imperiously commanded him to be silent, and to get to work. Tobycomplied, by first producing his lantern, and placing it on the ground; then byplanting himself firmly with his head against the wall beneath the window, andhis hands upon his knees, so as to make a step of his back. This was no soonerdone, than Sikes, mounting upon him, put Oliver gently through the window withhis feet first; and, without leaving hold of his collar, planted him safely onthe floor inside.

“Take this lantern,” said Sikes, looking into the room. “Yousee the stairs afore you?”

Oliver, more dead than alive, gasped out, “Yes.” Sikes, pointing tothe street-door with the pistol-barrel, briefly advised him to take notice thathe was within shot all the way; and that if he faltered, he would fall deadthat instant.

“It’s done in a minute,” said Sikes, in the same low whisper.“Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!”

“What’s that?” whispered the other man.

They listened intently.

“Nothing,” said Sikes, releasing his hold of Oliver.“Now!”

In the short time he had had to collect his senses, the boy had firmly resolvedthat, whether he died in the attempt or not, he would make one effort to dartupstairs from the hall, and alarm the family. Filled with this idea, headvanced at once, but stealthily.

“Come back!” suddenly cried Sikes aloud. “Back! back!”

Scared by the sudden breaking of the dead stillness of the place, and by a loudcry which followed it, Oliver let his lantern fall, and knew not whether toadvance or fly.

The cry was repeated—a light appeared—a vision of two terrifiedhalf-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes—aflash—a loud noise—a smoke—a crash somewhere, but where heknew not,—and he staggered back.

Sikes had disappeared for an instant; but he was up again, and had him by thecollar before the smoke had cleared away. He fired his own pistol after themen, who were already retreating; and dragged the boy up.

“Clasp your arm tighter,” said Sikes, as he drew him through thewindow. “Give me a shawl here. They’ve hit him. Quick! How the boybleeds!”

Then came the loud ringing of a bell, mingled with the noise of fire-arms, andthe shouts of men, and the sensation of being carried over uneven ground at arapid pace. And then, the noises grew confused in the distance; and a colddeadly feeling crept over the boy’s heart; and he saw or heard no more.

The night was bitter cold. The snow lay on the ground, frozen into a hard thickcrust, so that only the heaps that had drifted into byways and corners wereaffected by the sharp wind that howled abroad: which, as if expending increasedfury on such prey as it found, caught it savagely up in clouds, and, whirlingit into a thousand misty eddies, scattered it in air. Bleak, dark, and piercingcold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fireand thank God they were at home; and for the homeless, starving wretch to layhim down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our barestreets, at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, canhardly open them in a more bitter world.

Such was the aspect of out-of-doors affairs, when Mrs. Corney, the matron ofthe workhouse to which our readers have been already introduced as thebirthplace of Oliver Twist, sat herself down before a cheerful fire in her ownlittle room, and glanced, with no small degree of complacency, at a small roundtable: on which stood a tray of corresponding size, furnished with allnecessary materials for the most grateful meal that matrons enjoy. In fact,Mrs. Corney was about to solace herself with a cup of tea. As she glanced fromthe table to the fireplace, where the smallest of all possible kettles wassinging a small song in a small voice, her inward satisfaction evidentlyincreased,—so much so, indeed, that Mrs. Corney smiled.

“Well!” said the matron, leaning her elbow on the table, andlooking reflectively at the fire; “I’m sure we have all on us agreat deal to be grateful for! A great deal, if we did but know it. Ah!”

Mrs. Corney shook her head mournfully, as if deploring the mental blindness ofthose paupers who did not know it; and thrusting a silver spoon (privateproperty) into the inmost recesses of a two-ounce tin tea-caddy, proceeded tomake the tea.

How slight a thing will disturb the equanimity of our frail minds! The blackteapot, being very small and easily filled, ran over while Mrs. Corney wasmoralising; and the water slightly scalded Mrs. Corney’s hand.

“Drat the pot!” said the worthy matron, setting it down veryhastily on the hob; “a little stupid thing, that only holds a couple ofcups! What use is it of, to anybody! Except,” said Mrs. Corney, pausing,“except to a poor desolate creature like me. Oh dear!”

With these words, the matron dropped into her chair, and, once more resting herelbow on the table, thought of her solitary fate. The small teapot, and thesingle cup, had awakened in her mind sad recollections of Mr. Corney (who hadnot been dead more than five-and-twenty years); and she was overpowered.

“I shall never get another!” said Mrs. Corney, pettishly; “Ishall never get another—like him.”

Whether this remark bore reference to the husband, or the teapot, is uncertain.It might have been the latter; for Mrs. Corney looked at it as she spoke; andtook it up afterwards. She had just tasted her first cup, when she wasdisturbed by a soft tap at the room-door.

“Oh, come in with you!” said Mrs. Corney, sharply. “Some ofthe old women dying, I suppose. They always die when I’m at meals.Don’t stand there, letting the cold air in, don’t. What’samiss now, eh?”

“Nothing, ma’am, nothing,” replied a man’s voice.

“Dear me!” exclaimed the matron, in a much sweeter tone, “isthat Mr. Bumble?”

“At your service, ma’am,” said Mr. Bumble, who had beenstopping outside to rub his shoes clean, and to shake the snow off his coat;and who now made his appearance, bearing the cocked hat in one hand and abundle in the other. “Shall I shut the door, ma’am?”

The lady modestly hesitated to reply, lest there should be any impropriety inholding an interview with Mr. Bumble, with closed doors. Mr. Bumble takingadvantage of the hesitation, and being very cold himself, shut it withoutpermission.

“Hard weather, Mr. Bumble,” said the matron.

“Hard, indeed, ma’am,” replied the beadle.“Anti-porochial weather this, ma’am. We have given away, Mrs.Corney, we have given away a matter of twenty quartern loaves and a cheese anda half, this very blessed afternoon; and yet them paupers are notcontented.”

“Of course not. When would they be, Mr. Bumble?” said the matron,sipping her tea.

“When, indeed, ma’am!” rejoined Mr. Bumble. “Whyhere’s one man that, in consideration of his wife and large family, has aquartern loaf and a good pound of cheese, full weight. Is he grateful,ma’am? Is he grateful? Not a copper farthing’s worth of it! Whatdoes he do, ma’am, but ask for a few coals; if it’s only a pockethandkerchief full, he says! Coals! What would he do with coals? Toast hischeese with ’em and then come back for more. That’s the way withthese people, ma’am; give ’em a apron full of coals to-day, andthey’ll come back for another, the day after to-morrow, as brazen asalabaster.”

The matron expressed her entire concurrence in this intelligible simile; andthe beadle went on.

“I never,” said Mr. Bumble, “see anything like the pitchit’s got to. The day afore yesterday, a man—you have been a marriedwoman, ma’am, and I may mention it to you—a man, with hardly a ragupon his back (here Mrs. Corney looked at the floor), goes to ouroverseer’s door when he has got company coming to dinner; and says, hemust be relieved, Mrs. Corney. As he wouldn’t go away, and shocked thecompany very much, our overseer sent him out a pound of potatoes and half apint of oatmeal. ‘My heart!’ says the ungrateful villain,‘what’s the use of this to me? You might as well give me apair of iron spectacles!’ ‘Very good,’ says our overseer,taking ’em away again, ‘you won’t get anything elsehere.’ ‘Then I’ll die in the streets!’ says thevagrant. ‘Oh no, you won’t,’ says our overseer.”

“Ha! ha! That was very good! So like Mr. Grannett, wasn’tit?” interposed the matron. “Well, Mr. Bumble?”

“Well, ma’am,” rejoined the beadle, “he went away; andhe did die in the streets. There’s a obstinate pauper foryou!”

“It beats anything I could have believed,” observed the matronemphatically. “But don’t you think out-of-door relief a very badthing, any way, Mr. Bumble? You’re a gentleman of experience, and oughtto know. Come.”

“Mrs. Corney,” said the beadle, smiling as men smile who areconscious of superior information, “out-of-door relief, properly managed:properly managed, ma’am: is the porochial safeguard. The great principleof out-of-door relief is, to give the paupers exactly what they don’twant; and then they get tired of coming.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Corney. “Well, that is a good one,too!”

“Yes. Betwixt you and me, ma’am,” returned Mr. Bumble,“that’s the great principle; and that’s the reason why, ifyou look at any cases that get into them owdacious newspapers, you’llalways observe that sick families have been relieved with slices of cheese.That’s the rule now, Mrs. Corney, all over the country. But,however,” said the beadle, stopping to unpack his bundle, “theseare official secrets, ma’am; not to be spoken of; except, as I may say,among the porochial officers, such as ourselves. This is the port wine,ma’am, that the board ordered for the infirmary; real, fresh, genuineport wine; only out of the cask this forenoon; clear as a bell, and nosediment!”

Having held the first bottle up to the light, and shaken it well to test itsexcellence, Mr. Bumble placed them both on top of a chest of drawers; foldedthe handkerchief in which they had been wrapped; put it carefully in hispocket; and took up his hat, as if to go.

“You’ll have a very cold walk, Mr. Bumble,” said the matron.

“It blows, ma’am,” replied Mr. Bumble, turning up hiscoat-collar, “enough to cut one’s ears off.”

The matron looked, from the little kettle, to the beadle, who was movingtowards the door; and as the beadle coughed, preparatory to bidding hergood-night, bashfully inquired whether—whether he wouldn’t take acup of tea?

Mr. Bumble instantaneously turned back his collar again; laid his hat and stickupon a chair; and drew another chair up to the table. As he slowly seatedhimself, he looked at the lady. She fixed her eyes upon the little teapot. Mr.Bumble coughed again, and slightly smiled.

Mrs. Corney rose to get another cup and saucer from the closet. As she satdown, her eyes once again encountered those of the gallant beadle; shecoloured, and applied herself to the task of making his tea. Again Mr. Bumblecoughed—louder this time than he had coughed yet.

“Sweet? Mr. Bumble?” inquired the matron, taking up thesugar-basin.

“Very sweet, indeed, ma’am,” replied Mr. Bumble. He fixed hiseyes on Mrs. Corney as he said this; and if ever a beadle looked tender, Mr.Bumble was that beadle at that moment.

The tea was made, and handed in silence. Mr. Bumble, having spread ahandkerchief over his knees to prevent the crumbs from sullying the splendourof his shorts, began to eat and drink; varying these amusements, occasionally,by fetching a deep sigh; which, however, had no injurious effect upon hisappetite, but, on the contrary, rather seemed to facilitate his operations inthe tea and toast department.

“You have a cat, ma’am, I see,” said Mr. Bumble, glancing atone who, in the centre of her family, was basking before the fire; “andkittens too, I declare!”

“I am so fond of them, Mr. Bumble, you can’t think,” repliedthe matron. “They’re so happy, so frolicsome, andso cheerful, that they are quite companions for me.”

“Very nice animals, ma’am,” replied Mr. Bumble, approvingly;“so very domestic.”

“Oh, yes!” rejoined the matron with enthusiasm; “so fond oftheir home too, that it’s quite a pleasure, I’m sure.”

“Mrs. Corney, ma’am,” said Mr. Bumble, slowly, and markingthe time with his teaspoon, “I mean to say this, ma’am; that anycat, or kitten, that could live with you, ma’am, and not be fondof its home, must be a ass, ma’am.”

“Oh, Mr. Bumble!” remonstrated Mrs. Corney.

“It’s of no use disguising facts, ma’am,” said Mr.Bumble, slowly flourishing the teaspoon with a kind of amorous dignity whichmade him doubly impressive; “I would drown it myself, withpleasure.”

“Then you’re a cruel man,” said the matron vivaciously, asshe held out her hand for the beadle’s cup; “and a veryhard-hearted man besides.”

“Hard-hearted, ma’am?” said Mr. Bumble. “Hard?”Mr. Bumble resigned his cup without another word; squeezed Mrs. Corney’slittle finger as she took it; and inflicting two open-handed slaps upon hislaced waistcoat, gave a mighty sigh, and hitched his chair a very little morselfarther from the fire.

It was a round table; and as Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble had been sittingopposite each other, with no great space between them, and fronting the fire,it will be seen that Mr. Bumble, in receding from the fire, and still keepingat the table, increased the distance between himself and Mrs. Corney; whichproceeding, some prudent readers will doubtless be disposed to admire, and toconsider an act of great heroism on Mr. Bumble’s part: he being in somesort tempted by time, place, and opportunity, to give utterance to certain softnothings, which however well they may become the lips of the light andthoughtless, do seem immeasurably beneath the dignity of judges of the land,members of parliament, ministers of state, lord mayors, and other great publicfunctionaries, but more particularly beneath the stateliness and gravity of abeadle: who (as is well known) should be the sternest and most inflexible amongthem all.

Whatever were Mr. Bumble’s intentions, however (and no doubt they were ofthe best): it unfortunately happened, as has been twice before remarked, thatthe table was a round one; consequently Mr. Bumble, moving his chair by littleand little, soon began to diminish the distance between himself and the matron;and, continuing to travel round the outer edge of the circle, brought hischair, in time, close to that in which the matron was seated.

Indeed, the two chairs touched; and when they did so, Mr. Bumble stopped.

Now, if the matron had moved her chair to the right, she would have beenscorched by the fire; and if to the left, she must have fallen into Mr.Bumble’s arms; so (being a discreet matron, and no doubt foreseeing theseconsequences at a glance) she remained where she was, and handed Mr. Bumbleanother cup of tea.

“Hard-hearted, Mrs. Corney?” said Mr. Bumble, stirring his tea, andlooking up into the matron’s face; “are you hard-hearted,Mrs. Corney?”

“Dear me!” exclaimed the matron, “what a very curiousquestion from a single man. What can you want to know for, Mr. Bumble?”

The beadle drank his tea to the last drop; finished a piece of toast; whiskedthe crumbs off his knees; wiped his lips; and deliberately kissed the matron.

“Mr. Bumble!” cried that discreet lady in a whisper; for the frightwas so great, that she had quite lost her voice, “Mr. Bumble, I shallscream!” Mr. Bumble made no reply; but in a slow and dignified manner,put his arm round the matron’s waist.

As the lady had stated her intention of screaming, of course she would havescreamed at this additional boldness, but that the exertion was renderedunnecessary by a hasty knocking at the door: which was no sooner heard, thanMr. Bumble darted, with much agility, to the wine bottles, and began dustingthem with great violence: while the matron sharply demanded who was there.

It is worthy of remark, as a curious physical instance of the efficacy of asudden surprise in counteracting the effects of extreme fear, that her voicehad quite recovered all its official asperity.

“If you please, mistress,” said a withered old female pauper,hideously ugly: putting her head in at the door, “Old Sally is a-goingfast.”

“Well, what’s that to me?” angrily demanded the matron.“I can’t keep her alive, can I?”

“No, no, mistress,” replied the old woman, “nobody can;she’s far beyond the reach of help. I’ve seen a many people die;little babes and great strong men; and I know when death’s a-coming, wellenough. But she’s troubled in her mind: and when the fits are not onher,—and that’s not often, for she is dying very hard,—shesays she has got something to tell, which you must hear. She’ll never diequiet till you come, mistress.”

At this intelligence, the worthy Mrs. Corney muttered a variety of invectivesagainst old women who couldn’t even die without purposely annoying theirbetters; and, muffling herself in a thick shawl which she hastily caught up,briefly requested Mr. Bumble to stay till she came back, lest anythingparticular should occur. Bidding the messenger walk fast, and not be all nighthobbling up the stairs, she followed her from the room with a very ill grace,scolding all the way.

Mr. Bumble’s conduct on being left to himself, was rather inexplicable.He opened the closet, counted the teaspoons, weighed the sugar-tongs, closelyinspected a silver milk-pot to ascertain that it was of the genuine metal, and,having satisfied his curiosity on these points, put on his cocked hatcorner-wise, and danced with much gravity four distinct times round the table.

Having gone through this very extraordinary performance, he took off the cockedhat again, and, spreading himself before the fire with his back towards it,seemed to be mentally engaged in taking an exact inventory of the furniture.

It was no unfit messenger of death, who had disturbed the quiet of thematron’s room. Her body was bent by age; her limbs trembled with palsy;her face, distorted into a mumbling leer, resembled more the grotesque shapingof some wild pencil, than the work of Nature’s hand.

Alas! How few of Nature’s faces are left alone to gladden us with theirbeauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings, of the world, change them asthey change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have losttheir hold for ever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leaveHeaven’s surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of thedead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgottenexpression of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; socalm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happychildhood, kneel by the coffin’s side in awe, and see the Angel even uponearth.

The old crone tottered along the passages, and up the stairs, muttering someindistinct answers to the chidings of her companion; being at length compelledto pause for breath, she gave the light into her hand, and remained behind tofollow as she might: while the more nimble superior made her way to the roomwhere the sick woman lay.

It was a bare garret-room, with a dim light burning at the farther end. Therewas another old woman watching by the bed; the parish apothecary’sapprentice was standing by the fire, making a toothpick out of a quill.

“Cold night, Mrs. Corney,” said this young gentleman, as the matronentered.

“Very cold, indeed, sir,” replied the mistress, in her most civiltones, and dropping a curtsey as she spoke.

“You should get better coals out of your contractors,” said theapothecary’s deputy, breaking a lump on the top of the fire with therusty poker; “these are not at all the sort of thing for a coldnight.”

“They’re the board’s choosing, sir,” returned thematron. “The least they could do, would be to keep us pretty warm: forour places are hard enough.”

The conversation was here interrupted by a moan from the sick woman.

“Oh!” said the young man, turning his face towards the bed, as ifhe had previously quite forgotten the patient, “it’s all U.P.there, Mrs. Corney.”

“It is, is it, sir?” asked the matron.

“If she lasts a couple of hours, I shall be surprised,” said theapothecary’s apprentice, intent upon the toothpick’s point.“It’s a break-up of the system altogether. Is she dozing, oldlady?”

The attendant stooped over the bed, to ascertain; and nodded in theaffirmative.

“Then perhaps she’ll go off in that way, if you don’t make arow,” said the young man. “Put the light on the floor. Shewon’t see it there.”

The attendant did as she was told: shaking her head meanwhile, to intimate thatthe woman would not die so easily; having done so, she resumed her seat by theside of the other nurse, who had by this time returned. The mistress, with anexpression of impatience, wrapped herself in her shawl, and sat at the foot ofthe bed.

The apothecary’s apprentice, having completed the manufacture of thetoothpick, planted himself in front of the fire and made good use of it for tenminutes or so: when apparently growing rather dull, he wished Mrs. Corney joyof her job, and took himself off on tiptoe.

When they had sat in silence for some time, the two old women rose from thebed, and crouching over the fire, held out their withered hands to catch theheat. The flame threw a ghastly light on their shrivelled faces, and made theirugliness appear terrible, as, in this position, they began to converse in a lowvoice.

“Did she say any more, Anny dear, while I was gone?” inquired themessenger.

“Not a word,” replied the other. “She plucked and tore at herarms for a little time; but I held her hands, and she soon dropped off. Shehasn’t much strength in her, so I easily kept her quiet. I ain’t soweak for an old woman, although I am on parish allowance; no, no!”

“Did she drink the hot wine the doctor said she was to have?”demanded the first.

“I tried to get it down,” rejoined the other. “But her teethwere tight set, and she clenched the mug so hard that it was as much as I coulddo to get it back again. So I drank it; and it did me good!”

Looking cautiously round, to ascertain that they were not overheard, the twohags cowered nearer to the fire, and chuckled heartily.

“I mind the time,” said the first speaker, “when she wouldhave done the same, and made rare fun of it afterwards.”

“Ay, that she would,” rejoined the other; “she had a merryheart. “A many, many, beautiful corpses she laid out, as nice and neat aswaxwork. My old eyes have seen them—ay, and those old hands touched themtoo; for I have helped her, scores of times.”

Stretching forth her trembling fingers as she spoke, the old creature shookthem exultingly before her face, and fumbling in her pocket, brought out an oldtime-discoloured tin snuff-box, from which she shook a few grains into theoutstretched palm of her companion, and a few more into her own. While theywere thus employed, the matron, who had been impatiently watching until thedying woman should awaken from her stupor, joined them by the fire, and sharplyasked how long she was to wait?

“Not long, mistress,” replied the second woman, looking up into herface. “We have none of us long to wait for Death. Patience, patience!He’ll be here soon enough for us all.”

“Hold your tongue, you doting idiot!” said the matron sternly.“You, Martha, tell me; has she been in this way before?”

“Often,” answered the first woman.

“But will never be again,” added the second one; “that is,she’ll never wake again but once—and mind, mistress, thatwon’t be for long!”

“Long or short,” said the matron, snappishly, “shewon’t find me here when she does wake; take care, both of you, how youworry me again for nothing. It’s no part of my duty to see all the oldwomen in the house die, and I won’t—that’s more. Mind that,you impudent old harridans. If you make a fool of me again, I’ll sooncure you, I warrant you!”

She was bouncing away, when a cry from the two women, who had turned towardsthe bed, caused her to look round. The patient had raised herself upright, andwas stretching her arms towards them.

“Who’s that?” she cried, in a hollow voice.

“Hush, hush!” said one of the women, stooping over her. “Liedown, lie down!”

“I’ll never lie down again alive!” said the woman,struggling. “I will tell her! Come here! Nearer! Let me whisper inyour ear.”

She clutched the matron by the arm, and forcing her into a chair by thebedside, was about to speak, when looking round, she caught sight of the twoold women bending forward in the attitude of eager listeners.

“Turn them away,” said the woman, drowsily; “make haste! makehaste!”

The two old crones, chiming in together, began pouring out many piteouslamentations that the poor dear was too far gone to know her best friends; andwere uttering sundry protestations that they would never leave her, when thesuperior pushed them from the room, closed the door, and returned to thebedside. On being excluded, the old ladies changed their tone, and criedthrough the keyhole that old Sally was drunk; which, indeed, was not unlikely;since, in addition to a moderate dose of opium prescribed by the apothecary,she was labouring under the effects of a final taste of gin-and-water which hadbeen privily administered, in the openness of their hearts, by the worthy oldladies themselves.

“Now listen to me,” said the dying woman aloud, as if making agreat effort to revive one latent spark of energy. “In this veryroom—in this very bed—I once nursed a pretty young creetur’,that was brought into the house with her feet cut and bruised with walking, andall soiled with dust and blood. She gave birth to a boy, and died. Let methink—what was the year again!”

“Never mind the year,” said the impatient auditor; “whatabout her?”

“Ay,” murmured the sick woman, relapsing into her former drowsystate, “what about her?—what about—I know!” she cried,jumping fiercely up: her face flushed, and her eyes starting from herhead—“I robbed her, so I did! She wasn’t cold—I tellyou she wasn’t cold, when I stole it!”

“Stole what, for God’s sake?” cried the matron, with agesture as if she would call for help.

It!” replied the woman, laying her hand over theother’s mouth. “The only thing she had. She wanted clothes to keepher warm, and food to eat; but she had kept it safe, and had it in her bosom.It was gold, I tell you! Rich gold, that might have saved her life!”

“Gold!” echoed the matron, bending eagerly over the woman as shefell back. “Go on, go on—yes—what of it? Who was the mother?When was it?”

“She charged me to keep it safe,” replied the woman with a groan,“and trusted me as the only woman about her. I stole it in my heart whenshe first showed it me hanging round her neck; and the child’s death,perhaps, is on me besides! They would have treated him better, if they hadknown it all!”

“Known what?” asked the other. “Speak!”

“The boy grew so like his mother,” said the woman, rambling on, andnot heeding the question, “that I could never forget it when I saw hisface. Poor girl! poor girl! She was so young, too! Such a gentle lamb! Wait;there’s more to tell. I have not told you all, have I?”

“No, no,” replied the matron, inclining her head to catch thewords, as they came more faintly from the dying woman. “Be quick, or itmay be too late!”

“The mother,” said the woman, making a more violent effort thanbefore; “the mother, when the pains of death first came upon her,whispered in my ear that if her baby was born alive, and thrived, the day mightcome when it would not feel so much disgraced to hear its poor young mothernamed. ‘And oh, kind Heaven!’ she said, folding her thin handstogether, ‘whether it be boy or girl, raise up some friends for it inthis troubled world, and take pity upon a lonely desolate child, abandoned toits mercy!’”

“The boy’s name?” demanded the matron.

“They called him Oliver,” replied the woman, feebly.“The gold I stole was—”

“Yes, yes—what?” cried the other.

She was bending eagerly over the woman to hear her reply; but drew back,instinctively, as she once again rose, slowly and stiffly, into a sittingposture; then, clutching the coverlid with both hands, muttered some indistinctsounds in her throat, and fell lifeless on the bed.

“Stone dead!” said one of the old women, hurrying in as soon as thedoor was opened.

“And nothing to tell, after all,” rejoined the matron, walkingcarelessly away.

The two crones, to all appearance, too busily occupied in the preparations fortheir dreadful duties to make any reply, were left alone, hovering about thebody.

While these things were passing in the country workhouse, Mr. Fagin sat in theold den—the same from which Oliver had been removed by thegirl—brooding over a dull, smoky fire. He held a pair of bellows upon hisknee, with which he had apparently been endeavouring to rouse it into morecheerful action; but he had fallen into deep thought; and with his arms foldedon them, and his chin resting on his thumbs, fixed his eyes, abstractedly, onthe rusty bars.

At a table behind him sat the Artful Dodger, Master Charles Bates, and Mr.Chitling: all intent upon a game of whist; the Artful taking dummy againstMaster Bates and Mr. Chitling. The countenance of the first-named gentleman,peculiarly intelligent at all times, acquired great additional interest fromhis close observance of the game, and his attentive perusal of Mr.Chitling’s hand; upon which, from time to time, as occasion served, hebestowed a variety of earnest glances: wisely regulating his own play by theresult of his observations upon his neighbour’s cards. It being a coldnight, the Dodger wore his hat, as, indeed, was often his custom within doors.He also sustained a clay pipe between his teeth, which he only removed for abrief space when he deemed it necessary to apply for refreshment to a quart potupon the table, which stood ready filled with gin-and-water for theaccommodation of the company.

Master Bates was also attentive to the play; but being of a more excitablenature than his accomplished friend, it was observable that he more frequentlyapplied himself to the gin-and-water, and moreover indulged in many jests andirrelevant remarks, all highly unbecoming a scientific rubber. Indeed, theArtful, presuming upon their close attachment, more than once took occasion toreason gravely with his companion upon these improprieties; all of whichremonstrances, Master Bates received in extremely good part; merely requestinghis friend to be “blowed,” or to insert his head in a sack, orreplying with some other neatly-turned witticism of a similar kind, the happyapplication of which, excited considerable admiration in the mind of Mr.Chitling. It was remarkable that the latter gentleman and his partnerinvariably lost; and that the circumstance, so far from angering Master Bates,appeared to afford him the highest amusement, inasmuch as he laughed mostuproariously at the end of every deal, and protested that he had never seensuch a jolly game in all his born days.

“That’s two doubles and the rub,” said Mr. Chitling, with avery long face, as he drew half-a-crown from his waistcoat-pocket. “Inever see such a feller as you, Jack; you win everything. Even when we’vegood cards, Charley and I can’t make nothing of ’em.”

Either the master or the manner of this remark, which was made very ruefully,delighted Charley Bates so much, that his consequent shout of laughter rousedthe Jew from his reverie, and induced him to inquire what was the matter.

“Matter, Fagin!” cried Charley. “I wish you had watched theplay. Tommy Chitling hasn’t won a point; and I went partners with himagainst the Artfull and dumb.”

“Ay, ay!” said the Jew, with a grin, which sufficientlydemonstrated that he was at no loss to understand the reason. “Try’em again, Tom; try ’em again.”

“No more of it for me, thank ’ee, Fagin,” replied Mr.Chitling; “I’ve had enough. That ’ere Dodger has such a runof luck that there’s no standing again’ him.”

“Ha! ha! my dear,” replied the Jew, “you must get up veryearly in the morning, to win against the Dodger.”

“Morning!” said Charley Bates; “you must put your boots onover-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass between yourshoulders, if you want to come over him.”

Mr. Dawkins received these handsome compliments with much philosophy, andoffered to cut any gentleman in company, for the first picture-card, at ashilling at a time. Nobody accepting the challenge, and his pipe being by thistime smoked out, he proceeded to amuse himself by sketching a ground-plan ofNewgate on the table with the piece of chalk which had served him in lieu ofcounters; whistling, meantime, with peculiar shrillness.

“How precious dull you are, Tommy!” said the Dodger, stopping shortwhen there had been a long silence; and addressing Mr. Chitling. “What doyou think he’s thinking of, Fagin?”

“How should I know, my dear?” replied the Jew, looking round as heplied the bellows. “About his losses, maybe; or the little retirement inthe country that he’s just left, eh? Ha! ha! Is that it, my dear?”

“Not a bit of it,” replied the Dodger, stopping the subject ofdiscourse as Mr. Chitling was about to reply. “What do you say,Charley?”

I should say,” replied Master Bates, with a grin,“that he was uncommon sweet upon Betsy. See how he’s a-blushing!Oh, my eye! here’s a merry-go-rounder! Tommy Chitling’s in love!Oh, Fagin, Fagin! what a spree!”

Thoroughly overpowered with the notion of Mr. Chitling being the victim of thetender passion, Master Bates threw himself back in his chair with suchviolence, that he lost his balance, and pitched over upon the floor; where (theaccident abating nothing of his merriment) he lay at full length until hislaugh was over, when he resumed his former position, and began another laugh.

“Never mind him, my dear,” said the Jew, winking at Mr. Dawkins,and giving Master Bates a reproving tap with the nozzle of the bellows.“Betsy’s a fine girl. Stick up to her, Tom. Stick up to her.”

“What I mean to say, Fagin,” replied Mr. Chitling, very red in theface, “is, that that isn’t anything to anybody here.”

“No more it is,” replied the Jew; “Charley will talk.Don’t mind him, my dear; don’t mind him. Betsy’s a fine girl.Do as she bids you, Tom, and you will make your fortune.”

“So I do do as she bids me,” replied Mr. Chitling; “Ishouldn’t have been milled, if it hadn’t been for her advice. Butit turned out a good job for you; didn’t it, Fagin! And what’s sixweeks of it? It must come, some time or another, and why not in the winter timewhen you don’t want to go out a-walking so much; eh, Fagin?”

“Ah, to be sure, my dear,” replied the Jew.

“You wouldn’t mind it again, Tom, would you,” asked theDodger, winking upon Charley and the Jew, “if Bet was all right?”

“I mean to say that I shouldn’t,” replied Tom, angrily.“There, now. Ah! Who’ll say as much as that, I should like to know;eh, Fagin?”

“Nobody, my dear,” replied the Jew; “not a soul, Tom. Idon’t know one of ’em that would do it besides you; not one of’em, my dear.”

“I might have got clear off, if I’d split upon her; mightn’tI, Fagin?” angrily pursued the poor half-witted dupe. “A word fromme would have done it; wouldn’t it, Fagin?”

“To be sure it would, my dear,” replied the Jew.

“But I didn’t blab it; did I, Fagin?” demanded Tom, pouringquestion upon question with great volubility.

“No, no, to be sure,” replied the Jew; “you were toostout-hearted for that. A deal too stout, my dear!”

“Perhaps I was,” rejoined Tom, looking round; “and if I was,what’s to laugh at, in that; eh, Fagin?”

The Jew, perceiving that Mr. Chitling was considerably roused, hastened toassure him that nobody was laughing; and to prove the gravity of the company,appealed to Master Bates, the principal offender. But, unfortunately, Charley,in opening his mouth to reply that he was never more serious in his life, wasunable to prevent the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr.Chitling, without any preliminary ceremonies, rushed across the room and aimeda blow at the offender; who, being skilful in evading pursuit, ducked to avoidit, and chose his time so well that it lighted on the chest of the merry oldgentleman, and caused him to stagger to the wall, where he stood panting forbreath, while Mr. Chitling looked on in intense dismay.

“Hark!” cried the Dodger at this moment, “I heard thetinkler.” Catching up the light, he crept softly upstairs.

The bell was rung again, with some impatience, while the party were indarkness. After a short pause, the Dodger reappeared, and whispered Faginmysteriously.

“What!” cried the Jew, “alone?”

The Dodger nodded in the affirmative, and, shading the flame of the candle withhis hand, gave Charley Bates a private intimation, in dumb show, that he hadbetter not be funny just then. Having performed this friendly office, he fixedhis eyes on the Jew’s face, and awaited his directions.

The old man bit his yellow fingers, and meditated for some seconds; his faceworking with agitation the while, as if he dreaded something, and feared toknow the worst. At length he raised his head.

“Where is he?” he asked.

The Dodger pointed to the floor above, and made a gesture, as if to leave theroom.

“Yes,” said the Jew, answering the mute inquiry; “bring himdown. Hush! Quiet, Charley! Gently, Tom! Scarce, scarce!”

This brief direction to Charley Bates, and his recent antagonist, was softlyand immediately obeyed. There was no sound of their whereabout, when the Dodgerdescended the stairs, bearing the light in his hand, and followed by a man in acoarse smock-frock; who, after casting a hurried glance round the room, pulledoff a large wrapper which had concealed the lower portion of his face, anddisclosed: all haggard, unwashed, and unshorn: the features of flash TobyCrackit.

“How are you, Faguey?” said this worthy, nodding to the Jew.“Pop that shawl away in my castor, Dodger, so that I may know where tofind it when I cut; that’s the time of day! You’ll be a fine youngcracksman afore the old file now.”

With these words he pulled up the smock-frock; and, winding it round hismiddle, drew a chair to the fire, and placed his feet upon the hob.

“See there, Faguey,” he said, pointing disconsolately to his topboots; “not a drop of Day and Martin since you know when; not a bubble ofblacking, by Jove! But don’t look at me in that way, man. All in goodtime. I can’t talk about business till I’ve eat and drank; soproduce the sustainance, and let’s have a quiet fill-out for the firsttime these three days!”

The Jew motioned to the Dodger to place what eatables there were, upon thetable; and, seating himself opposite the housebreaker, waited his leisure.

To judge from appearances, Toby was by no means in a hurry to open theconversation. At first, the Jew contented himself with patiently watching hiscountenance, as if to gain from its expression some clue to the intelligence hebrought; but in vain.

He looked tired and worn, but there was the same complacent repose upon hisfeatures that they always wore: and through dirt, and beard, and whisker, therestill shone, unimpaired, the self-satisfied smirk of flash Toby Crackit. Thenthe Jew, in an agony of impatience, watched every morsel he put into his mouth;pacing up and down the room, meanwhile, in irrepressible excitement. It was allof no use. Toby continued to eat with the utmost outward indifference, until hecould eat no more; then, ordering the Dodger out, he closed the door, mixed aglass of spirits and water, and composed himself for talking.

“First and foremost, Faguey,” said Toby.

“Yes, yes!” interposed the Jew, drawing up his chair.

Mr. Crackit stopped to take a draught of spirits and water, and to declare thatthe gin was excellent; then placing his feet against the low mantelpiece, so asto bring his boots to about the level of his eye, he quietly resumed.

“First and foremost, Faguey,” said the housebreaker,“how’s Bill?”

“What!” screamed the Jew, starting from his seat.

“Why, you don’t mean to say—” began Toby, turning pale.

“Mean!” cried the Jew, stamping furiously on the ground.“Where are they? Sikes and the boy! Where are they? Where have they been?Where are they hiding? Why have they not been here?”

“The crack failed,” said Toby faintly.

“I know it,” replied the Jew, tearing a newspaper from his pocketand pointing to it. “What more?”

“They fired and hit the boy. We cut over the fields at the back, with himbetween us—straight as the crow flies—through hedge and ditch. Theygave chase. Damme! the whole country was awake, and the dogs upon us.”

“The boy!”

“Bill had him on his back, and scudded like the wind. We stopped to takehim between us; his head hung down, and he was cold. They were close upon ourheels; every man for himself, and each from the gallows! We parted company, andleft the youngster lying in a ditch. Alive or dead, that’s all I knowabout him.”

The Jew stopped to hear no more; but uttering a loud yell, and twining hishands in his hair, rushed from the room, and from the house.

The old man had gained the street corner, before he began to recover the effectof Toby Crackit’s intelligence. He had relaxed nothing of his unusualspeed; but was still pressing onward, in the same wild and disordered manner,when the sudden dashing past of a carriage: and a boisterous cry from the footpassengers, who saw his danger: drove him back upon the pavement. Avoiding, asmuch as was possible, all the main streets, and skulking only through theby-ways and alleys, he at length emerged on Snow Hill. Here he walked evenfaster than before; nor did he linger until he had again turned into a court;when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper element, he fell into hisusual shuffling pace, and seemed to breathe more freely.

Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens, upon theright hand as you come out of the City, a narrow and dismal alley, leading toSaffron Hill. In its filthy shops are exposed for sale huge bunches ofsecond-hand silk handkerchiefs, of all sizes and patterns; for here reside thetraders who purchase them from pick-pockets. Hundreds of these handkerchiefshang dangling from pegs outside the windows or flaunting from the door-posts;and the shelves, within, are piled with them. Confined as the limits of FieldLane are, it has its barber, its coffee-shop, its beer-shop, and its fried-fishwarehouse. It is a commercial colony of itself: the emporium of petty larceny:visited at early morning, and setting-in of dusk, by silent merchants, whotraffic in dark back-parlours, and who go as strangely as they come. Here, theclothesman, the shoe-vamper, and the rag-merchant, display their goods, assign-boards to the petty thief; here, stores of old iron and bones, and heapsof mildewy fragments of woollen-stuff and linen, rust and rot in the grimycellars.

It was into this place that the Jew turned. He was well known to the sallowdenizens of the lane; for such of them as were on the look-out to buy or sell,nodded, familiarly, as he passed along. He replied to their salutations in thesame way; but bestowed no closer recognition until he reached the further endof the alley; when he stopped, to address a salesman of small stature, who hadsqueezed as much of his person into a child’s chair as the chair wouldhold, and was smoking a pipe at his warehouse door.

“Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalmy!” saidthis respectable trader, in acknowledgment of the Jew’s inquiry after hishealth.

“The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,” said Fagin,elevating his eyebrows, and crossing his hands upon his shoulders.

“Well, I’ve heerd that complaint of it, once or twicebefore,” replied the trader; “but it soon cools down again;don’t you find it so?”

Fagin nodded in the affirmative. Pointing in the direction of Saffron Hill, heinquired whether any one was up yonder to-night.

“At the Cripples?” inquired the man.

The Jew nodded.

“Let me see,” pursued the merchant, reflecting.

“Yes, there’s some half-dozen of ’em gone in, that I knows. Idon’t think your friend’s there.”

“Sikes is not, I suppose?” inquired the Jew, with a disappointedcountenance.

Non istwentus, as the lawyers say,” replied the little man,shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly. “Have you got anything in myline to-night?”

“Nothing to-night,” said the Jew, turning away.

“Are you going up to the Cripples, Fagin?” cried the little man,calling after him. “Stop! I don’t mind if I have a drop there withyou!”

But as the Jew, looking back, waved his hand to intimate that he preferredbeing alone; and, moreover, as the little man could not very easily disengagehimself from the chair; the sign of the Cripples was, for a time, bereft of theadvantage of Mr. Lively’s presence. By the time he had got upon his legs,the Jew had disappeared; so Mr. Lively, after ineffectually standing on tiptoe,in the hope of catching sight of him, again forced himself into the littlechair, and, exchanging a shake of the head with a lady in the opposite shop, inwhich doubt and mistrust were plainly mingled, resumed his pipe with a gravedemeanour.

The Three Cripples, or rather the Cripples; which was the sign by which theestablishment was familiarly known to its patrons: was the public-house inwhich Mr. Sikes and his dog have already figured. Merely making a sign to a manat the bar, Fagin walked straight upstairs, and opening the door of a room, andsoftly insinuating himself into the chamber, looked anxiously about: shadinghis eyes with his hand, as if in search of some particular person.

The room was illuminated by two gas-lights; the glare of which was prevented bythe barred shutters, and closely-drawn curtains of faded red, from beingvisible outside. The ceiling was blackened, to prevent its colour from beinginjured by the flaring of the lamps; and the place was so full of dense tobaccosmoke, that at first it was scarcely possible to discern anything more. Bydegrees, however, as some of it cleared away through the open door, anassemblage of heads, as confused as the noises that greeted the ear, might bemade out; and as the eye grew more accustomed to the scene, the spectatorgradually became aware of the presence of a numerous company, male and female,crowded round a long table: at the upper end of which, sat a chairman with ahammer of office in his hand; while a professional gentleman with a bluishnose, and his face tied up for the benefit of a toothache, presided at ajingling piano in a remote corner.

As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, running over the keysby way of prelude, occasioned a general cry of order for a song; which havingsubsided, a young lady proceeded to entertain the company with a ballad in fourverses, between each of which the accompanyist played the melody all through,as loud as he could. When this was over, the chairman gave a sentiment, afterwhich, the professional gentleman on the chairman’s right and leftvolunteered a duet, and sang it, with great applause.

It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominently from among thegroup. There was the chairman himself, (the landlord of the house,) a coarse,rough, heavy built fellow, who, while the songs were proceeding, rolled hiseyes hither and thither, and, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had aneye for everything that was done, and an ear for everything that wassaid—and sharp ones, too. Near him were the singers: receiving, withprofessional indifference, the compliments of the company, and applyingthemselves, in turn, to a dozen proffered glasses of spirits and water,tendered by their more boisterous admirers; whose countenances, expressive ofalmost every vice in almost every grade, irresistibly attracted the attention,by their very repulsiveness. Cunning, ferocity, and drunkeness in all itsstages, were there, in their strongest aspect; and women: some with the lastlingering tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked: otherswith every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out, and presenting butone loathsome blank of profligacy and crime; some mere girls, others but youngwomen, and none past the prime of life; formed the darkest and saddest portionof this dreary picture.

Fagin, troubled by no grave emotions, looked eagerly from face to face whilethese proceedings were in progress; but apparently without meeting that ofwhich he was in search. Succeeding, at length, in catching the eye of the manwho occupied the chair, he beckoned to him slightly, and left the room, asquietly as he had entered it.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Fagin?” inquired the man, as hefollowed him out to the landing. “Won’t you join us? They’llbe delighted, every one of ’em.”

The Jew shook his head impatiently, and said in a whisper, “Is hehere?”

“No,” replied the man.

“And no news of Barney?” inquired Fagin.

“None,” replied the landlord of the Cripples; for it was he.“He won’t stir till it’s all safe. Depend on it,they’re on the scent down there; and that if he moved, he’d blowupon the thing at once. He’s all right enough, Barney is, else I shouldhave heard of him. I’ll pound it, that Barney’s managing properly.Let him alone for that.”

“Will he be here to-night?” asked the Jew, laying the sameemphasis on the pronoun as before.

“Monks, do you mean?” inquired the landlord, hesitating.

“Hush!” said the Jew. “Yes.”

“Certain,” replied the man, drawing a gold watch from his fob;“I expected him here before now. If you’ll wait ten minutes,he’ll be—”

“No, no,” said the Jew, hastily; as though, however desirous hemight be to see the person in question, he was nevertheless relieved by hisabsence. “Tell him I came here to see him; and that he must come to meto-night. No, say to-morrow. As he is not here, to-morrow will be timeenough.”

“Good!” said the man. “Nothing more?”

“Not a word now,” said the Jew, descending the stairs.

“I say,” said the other, looking over the rails, and speaking in ahoarse whisper; “what a time this would be for a sell! I’ve gotPhil Barker here: so drunk, that a boy might take him!”

“Ah! But it’s not Phil Barker’s time,” said the Jew,looking up. “Phil has something more to do, before we can afford to partwith him; so go back to the company, my dear, and tell them to lead merrylives—while they last. Ha! ha! ha!”

The landlord reciprocated the old man’s laugh; and returned to hisguests. The Jew was no sooner alone, than his countenance resumed its formerexpression of anxiety and thought. After a brief reflection, he called ahack-cabriolet, and bade the man drive towards Bethnal Green. He dismissed himwithin some quarter of a mile of Mr. Sikes’s residence, and performed theshort remainder of the distance, on foot.

“Now,” muttered the Jew, as he knocked at the door, “if thereis any deep play here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunning as youare.”

She was in her room, the woman said. Fagin crept softly upstairs, and enteredit without any previous ceremony. The girl was alone; lying with her head uponthe table, and her hair straggling over it.

“She has been drinking,” thought the Jew, cooly, “or perhapsshe is only miserable.”

The old man turned to close the door, as he made this reflection; the noisethus occasioned, roused the girl. She eyed his crafty face narrowly, as sheinquired to his recital of Toby Crackit’s story. When it was concluded,she sank into her former attitude, but spoke not a word. She pushed the candleimpatiently away; and once or twice as she feverishly changed her position,shuffled her feet upon the ground; but this was all.

During the silence, the Jew looked restlessly about the room, as if to assurehimself that there were no appearances of Sikes having covertly returned.Apparently satisfied with his inspection, he coughed twice or thrice, and madeas many efforts to open a conversation; but the girl heeded him no more than ifhe had been made of stone. At length he made another attempt; and rubbing hishands together, said, in his most conciliatory tone,

“And where should you think Bill was now, my dear?”

The girl moaned out some half intelligible reply, that she could not tell; andseemed, from the smothered noise that escaped her, to be crying.

“And the boy, too,” said the Jew, straining his eyes to catch aglimpse of her face. “Poor leetle child! Left in a ditch, Nance; onlythink!”

“The child,” said the girl, suddenly looking up, “is betterwhere he is, than among us; and if no harm comes to Bill from it, I hope helies dead in the ditch and that his young bones may rot there.”

“What!” cried the Jew, in amazement.

“Ay, I do,” returned the girl, meeting his gaze. “I shall beglad to have him away from my eyes, and to know that the worst is over. Ican’t bear to have him about me. The sight of him turns me againstmyself, and all of you.”

“Pooh!” said the Jew, scornfully. “You’re drunk.”

“Am I?” cried the girl bitterly. “It’s no fault ofyours, if I am not! You’d never have me anything else, if you had yourwill, except now;—the humour doesn’t suit you, doesn’tit?”

“No!” rejoined the Jew, furiously. “It does not.”

“Change it, then!” responded the girl, with a laugh.

“Change it!” exclaimed the Jew, exasperated beyond all bounds byhis companion’s unexpected obstinacy, and the vexation of the night,“I will change it! Listen to me, you drab. Listen to me, who withsix words, can strangle Sikes as surely as if I had his bull’s throatbetween my fingers now. If he comes back, and leaves the boy behind him; if hegets off free, and dead or alive, fails to restore him to me; murder himyourself if you would have him escape Jack Ketch. And do it the moment he setsfoot in this room, or mind me, it will be too late!”

“What is all this?” cried the girl involuntarily.

“What is it?” pursued Fagin, mad with rage. “When theboy’s worth hundreds of pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw mein the way of getting safely, through the whims of a drunken gang that I couldwhistle away the lives of! And me bound, too, to a born devil that only wantsthe will, and has the power to, to—”

Panting for breath, the old man stammered for a word; and in that instantchecked the torrent of his wrath, and changed his whole demeanour. A momentbefore, his clenched hands had grasped the air; his eyes had dilated; and hisface grown livid with passion; but now, he shrunk into a chair, and, coweringtogether, trembled with the apprehension of having himself disclosed somehidden villainy. After a short silence, he ventured to look round at hiscompanion. He appeared somewhat reassured, on beholding her in the samelistless attitude from which he had first roused her.

“Nancy, dear!” croaked the Jew, in his usual voice. “Did youmind me, dear?”

“Don’t worry me now, Fagin!” replied the girl, raising herhead languidly. “If Bill has not done it this time, he will another. Hehas done many a good job for you, and will do many more when he can; and whenhe can’t he won’t; so no more about that.”

“Regarding this boy, my dear?” said the Jew, rubbing the palms ofhis hands nervously together.

“The boy must take his chance with the rest,” interrupted Nancy,hastily; “and I say again, I hope he is dead, and out of harm’sway, and out of yours,—that is, if Bill comes to no harm. And if Toby gotclear off, Bill’s pretty sure to be safe; for Bill’s worth two ofToby any time.”

“And about what I was saying, my dear?” observed the Jew, keepinghis glistening eye steadily upon her.

“You must say it all over again, if it’s anything you want me todo,” rejoined Nancy; “and if it is, you had better wait tillto-morrow. You put me up for a minute; but now I’m stupid again.”

Fagin put several other questions: all with the same drift of ascertainingwhether the girl had profited by his unguarded hints; but, she answered them soreadily, and was withal so utterly unmoved by his searching looks, that hisoriginal impression of her being more than a trifle in liquor, was confirmed.Nancy, indeed, was not exempt from a failing which was very common among theJew’s female pupils; and in which, in their tenderer years, they wererather encouraged than checked. Her disordered appearance, and a wholesaleperfume of Geneva which pervaded the apartment, afforded strong confirmatoryevidence of the justice of the Jew’s supposition; and when, afterindulging in the temporary display of violence above described, she subsided,first into dullness, and afterwards into a compound of feelings: under theinfluence of which she shed tears one minute, and in the next gave utterance tovarious exclamations of “Never say die!” and divers calculations asto what might be the amount of the odds so long as a lady or gentleman washappy, Mr. Fagin, who had had considerable experience of such matters in histime, saw, with great satisfaction, that she was very far gone indeed.

Having eased his mind by this discovery; and having accomplished his twofoldobject of imparting to the girl what he had, that night, heard, and ofascertaining, with his own eyes, that Sikes had not returned, Mr. Fagin againturned his face homeward: leaving his young friend asleep, with her head uponthe table.

It was within an hour of midnight. The weather being dark, and piercing cold,he had no great temptation to loiter. The sharp wind that scoured the streets,seemed to have cleared them of passengers, as of dust and mud, for few peoplewere abroad, and they were to all appearance hastening fast home. It blew fromthe right quarter for the Jew, however, and straight before it he went:trembling, and shivering, as every fresh gust drove him rudely on his way.

He had reached the corner of his own street, and was already fumbling in hispocket for the door-key, when a dark figure emerged from a projecting entrancewhich lay in deep shadow, and, crossing the road, glided up to him unperceived.

“Fagin!” whispered a voice close to his ear.

“Ah!” said the Jew, turning quickly round, “isthat—”

“Yes!” interrupted the stranger. “I have been lingering herethese two hours. Where the devil have you been?”

“On your business, my dear,” replied the Jew, glancing uneasily athis companion, and slackening his pace as he spoke. “On your business allnight.”

“Oh, of course!” said the stranger, with a sneer. “Well; andwhat’s come of it?”

“Nothing good,” said the Jew.

“Nothing bad, I hope?” said the stranger, stopping short, andturning a startled look on his companion.

The Jew shook his head, and was about to reply, when the stranger, interruptinghim, motioned to the house, before which they had by this time arrived:remarking, that he had better say what he had got to say, under cover: for hisblood was chilled with standing about so long, and the wind blew through him.

Fagin looked as if he could have willingly excused himself from taking home avisitor at that unseasonable hour; and, indeed, muttered something about havingno fire; but his companion repeating his request in a peremptory manner, heunlocked the door, and requested him to close it softly, while he got a light.

“It’s as dark as the grave,” said the man, groping forward afew steps. “Make haste!”

“Shut the door,” whispered Fagin from the end of the passage. As hespoke, it closed with a loud noise.

“That wasn’t my doing,” said the other man, feeling his way.“The wind blew it to, or it shut of its own accord: one or the other.Look sharp with the light, or I shall knock my brains out against something inthis confounded hole.”

Fagin stealthily descended the kitchen stairs. After a short absence, hereturned with a lighted candle, and the intelligence that Toby Crackit wasasleep in the back room below, and that the boys were in the front one.Beckoning the man to follow him, he led the way upstairs.

“We can say the few words we’ve got to say in here, my dear,”said the Jew, throwing open a door on the first floor; “and as there areholes in the shutters, and we never show lights to our neighbours, we’llset the candle on the stairs. There!”

With those words, the Jew, stooping down, placed the candle on an upper flightof stairs, exactly opposite to the room door. This done, he led the way intothe apartment; which was destitute of all movables save a broken arm-chair, andan old couch or sofa without covering, which stood behind the door. Upon thispiece of furniture, the stranger sat himself with the air of a weary man; andthe Jew, drawing up the arm-chair opposite, they sat face to face. It was notquite dark; the door was partially open; and the candle outside, threw a feeblereflection on the opposite wall.

They conversed for some time in whispers. Though nothing of the conversationwas distinguishable beyond a few disjointed words here and there, a listenermight easily have perceived that Fagin appeared to be defending himself againstsome remarks of the stranger; and that the latter was in a state ofconsiderable irritation. They might have been talking, thus, for a quarter ofan hour or more, when Monks—by which name the Jew had designated thestrange man several times in the course of their colloquy—said, raisinghis voice a little,

“I tell you again, it was badly planned. Why not have kept him here amongthe rest, and made a sneaking, snivelling pickpocket of him at once?”

“Only hear him!” exclaimed the Jew, shrugging his shoulders.

“Why, do you mean to say you couldn’t have done it, if you hadchosen?” demanded Monks, sternly. “Haven’t you done it, withother boys, scores of times? If you had had patience for a twelvemonth, atmost, couldn’t you have got him convicted, and sent safely out of thekingdom; perhaps for life?”

“Whose turn would that have served, my dear?” inquired the Jewhumbly.

“Mine,” replied Monks.

“But not mine,” said the Jew, submissively. “He might havebecome of use to me. When there are two parties to a bargain, it is onlyreasonable that the interests of both should be consulted; is it, my goodfriend?”

“What then?” demanded Monks.

“I saw it was not easy to train him to the business,” replied theJew; “he was not like other boys in the same circumstances.”

“Curse him, no!” muttered the man, “or he would have been athief, long ago.”

“I had no hold upon him to make him worse,” pursued the Jew,anxiously watching the countenance of his companion. “His hand was notin. I had nothing to frighten him with; which we always must have in thebeginning, or we labour in vain. What could I do? Send him out with the Dodgerand Charley? We had enough of that, at first, my dear; I trembled for usall.”

That was not my doing,” observed Monks.

“No, no, my dear!” renewed the Jew. “And I don’tquarrel with it now; because, if it had never happened, you might never haveclapped eyes on the boy to notice him, and so led to the discovery that it washim you were looking for. Well! I got him back for you by means of the girl;and then she begins to favour him.”

“Throttle the girl!” said Monks, impatiently.

“Why, we can’t afford to do that just now, my dear,” repliedthe Jew, smiling; “and, besides, that sort of thing is not in our way;or, one of these days, I might be glad to have it done. I know what these girlsare, Monks, well. As soon as the boy begins to harden, she’ll care nomore for him, than for a block of wood. You want him made a thief. If he isalive, I can make him one from this time; and, if—if—” saidthe Jew, drawing nearer to the other,—“it’s not likely,mind,—but if the worst comes to the worst, and he is dead—”

“It’s no fault of mine if he is!” interposed the other man,with a look of terror, and clasping the Jew’s arm with trembling hands.“Mind that. Fagin! I had no hand in it. Anything but his death, I toldyou from the first. I won’t shed blood; it’s always found out, andhaunts a man besides. If they shot him dead, I was not the cause; do you hearme? Fire this infernal den! What’s that?”

“What!” cried the Jew, grasping the coward round the body, withboth arms, as he sprung to his feet. “Where?”

“Yonder! replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall. “Theshadow! I saw the shadow of a woman, in a cloak and bonnet, pass along thewainscot like a breath!”

The Jew released his hold, and they rushed tumultuously from the room. Thecandle, wasted by the draught, was standing where it had been placed. It showedthem only the empty staircase, and their own white faces. They listenedintently: a profound silence reigned throughout the house.

“It’s your fancy,” said the Jew, taking up the light andturning to his companion.

“I’ll swear I saw it!” replied Monks, trembling. “Itwas bending forward when I saw it first; and when I spoke, it dartedaway.”

The Jew glanced contemptuously at the pale face of his associate, and, tellinghim he could follow, if he pleased, ascended the stairs. They looked into allthe rooms; they were cold, bare, and empty. They descended into the passage,and thence into the cellars below. The green damp hung upon the low walls; thetracks of the snail and slug glistened in the light of the candle; but all wasstill as death.

“What do you think now?” said the Jew, when they had regained thepassage. “Besides ourselves, there’s not a creature in the houseexcept Toby and the boys; and they’re safe enough. See here!”

As a proof of the fact, the Jew drew forth two keys from his pocket; andexplained, that when he first went downstairs, he had locked them in, toprevent any intrusion on the conference.

This accumulated testimony effectually staggered Mr. Monks. His protestationshad gradually become less and less vehement as they proceeded in their searchwithout making any discovery; and, now, he gave vent to several very grimlaughs, and confessed it could only have been his excited imagination. Hedeclined any renewal of the conversation, however, for that night: suddenlyremembering that it was past one o’clock. And so the amiable coupleparted.

As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep so mighty apersonage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire, and the skirts of hiscoat gathered up under his arms, until such time as it might suit his pleasureto relieve him; and as it would still less become his station, or his gallantryto involve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looked with aneye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had whispered sweet words,which, coming from such a quarter, might well thrill the bosom of maid ormatron of whatsoever degree; the historian whose pen traces thesewords—trusting that he knows his place, and that he entertains a becomingreverence for those upon earth to whom high and important authority isdelegated—hastens to pay them that respect which their position demands,and to treat them with all that duteous ceremony which their exalted rank, and(by consequence) great virtues, imperatively claim at his hands. Towards thisend, indeed, he had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertationtouching the divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the position, that abeadle can do no wrong: which could not fail to have been both pleasurable andprofitable to the right-minded reader but which he is unfortunately compelled,by want of time and space, to postpone to some more convenient and fittingopportunity; on the arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that abeadle properly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle, attached to aparochial workhouse, and attending in his official capacity the parochialchurch: is, in right and virtue of his office, possessed of all the excellencesand best qualities of humanity; and that to none of those excellences, can merecompanies’ beadles, or court-of-law beadles, or even chapel-of-easebeadles (save the last, and they in a very lowly and inferior degree), lay theremotest sustainable claim.

Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed the sugar-tongs, made acloser inspection of the milk-pot, and ascertained to a nicety the exactcondition of the furniture, down to the very horse-hair seats of the chairs;and had repeated each process full half a dozen times; before he began to thinkthat it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begets thinking; as therewere no sounds of Mrs. Corney’s approach, it occured to Mr. Bumble thatit would be an innocent and virtuous way of spending the time, if he werefurther to allay his curiousity by a cursory glance at the interior of Mrs.Corney’s chest of drawers.

Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody was approachingthe chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom, proceeded to make himselfacquainted with the contents of the three long drawers: which, being filledwith various garments of good fashion and texture, carefully preserved betweentwo layers of old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yield himexceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at the right-hand cornerdrawer (in which was the key), and beholding therein a small padlocked box,which, being shaken, gave forth a pleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin,Mr. Bumble returned with a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his oldattitude, said, with a grave and determined air, “I’ll doit!” He followed up this remarkable declaration, by shaking his head in awaggish manner for ten minutes, as though he were remonstrating with himselffor being such a pleasant dog; and then, he took a view of his legs in profile,with much seeming pleasure and interest.

He was still placidly engaged in this latter survey, when Mrs. Corney, hurryinginto the room, threw herself, in a breathless state, on a chair by thefireside, and covering her eyes with one hand, placed the other over her heart,and gasped for breath.

“Mrs. Corney,” said Mr. Bumble, stooping over the matron,“what is this, ma’am? Has anything happened, ma’am? Prayanswer me: I’m on—on—” Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, couldnot immediately think of the word “tenterhooks,” so he said“broken bottles.”

“Oh, Mr. Bumble!” cried the lady, “I have been so dreadfullyput out!”

“Put out, ma’am!” exclaimed Mr. Bumble; “who has daredto—? I know!” said Mr. Bumble, checking himself, with nativemajesty, “this is them wicious paupers!”

“It’s dreadful to think of!” said the lady, shuddering.

“Then don’t think of it, ma’am,” rejoined Mr.Bumble.

“I can’t help it,” whimpered the lady.

“Then take something, ma’am,” said Mr. Bumble soothingly.“A little of the wine?”

“Not for the world!” replied Mrs. Corney. “Icouldn’t,—oh! The top shelf in the right-handcorner—oh!” Uttering these words, the good lady pointed,distractedly, to the cupboard, and underwent a convulsion from internal spasms.Mr. Bumble rushed to the closet; and, snatching a pint green-glass bottle fromthe shelf thus incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with its contents, andheld it to the lady’s lips.

“I’m better now,” said Mrs. Corney, falling back, afterdrinking half of it.

Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously to the ceiling in thankfulness; and,bringing them down again to the brim of the cup, lifted it to his nose.

“Peppermint,” exclaimed Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smilinggently on the beadle as she spoke. “Try it! There’s alittle—a little something else in it.”

Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with a doubtful look; smacked his lips; tookanother taste; and put the cup down empty.

“It’s very comforting,” said Mrs. Corney.

“Very much so indeed, ma’am,” said the beadle. As he spoke,he drew a chair beside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had happened todistress her.

“Nothing,” replied Mrs. Corney. “I am a foolish, excitable,weak creetur.”

“Not weak, ma’am,” retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair alittle closer. “Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?”

“We are all weak creeturs,” said Mrs. Corney, laying down a generalprinciple.

“So we are,” said the beadle.

Nothing was said on either side, for a minute or two afterwards. By theexpiration of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the position by removinghis left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney’s chair, where it hadpreviously rested, to Mrs. Corney’s apron-string, round which itgradually became entwined.

“We are all weak creeturs,” said Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Corney sighed.

“Don’t sigh, Mrs. Corney,” said Mr. Bumble.

“I can’t help it,” said Mrs. Corney. And she sighed again.

“This is a very comfortable room, ma’am,” said Mr. Bumblelooking round. “Another room, and this, ma’am, would be a completething.”

“It would be too much for one,” murmured the lady.

“But not for two, ma’am,” rejoined Mr. Bumble, in softaccents. “Eh, Mrs. Corney?”

Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when the beadle said this; the beadle droopedhis, to get a view of Mrs. Corney’s face. Mrs. Corney, with greatpropriety, turned her head away, and released her hand to get at herpocket-handkerchief; but insensibly replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.

“The board allows you coals, don’t they, Mrs. Corney?”inquired the beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.

“And candles,” replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning thepressure.

“Coals, candles, and house-rent free,” said Mr. Bumble. “Oh,Mrs. Corney, what an Angel you are!”

The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank into Mr.Bumble’s arms; and that gentleman in his agitation, imprinted apassionate kiss upon her chaste nose.

“Such porochial perfection!” exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously.“You know that Mr. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?”

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.

“He can’t live a week, the doctor says,” pursued Mr. Bumble.“He is the master of this establishment; his death will cause a wacancy;that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a prospect this opens!What a opportunity for a jining of hearts and housekeepings!”

Mrs. Corney sobbed.

“The little word?” said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashfulbeauty. “The one little, little, little word, my blessed Corney?”

“Ye—ye—yes!” sighed out the matron.

“One more,” pursued the beadle; “compose your darlingfeelings for only one more. When is it to come off?”

Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length summoning upcourage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble’s neck, and said, it mightbe as soon as ever he pleased, and that he was “a irresistibleduck.”

Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the contract wassolemnly ratified in another teacupful of the peppermint mixture; which wasrendered the more necessary, by the flutter and agitation of the lady’sspirits. While it was being disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the oldwoman’s decease.

“Very good,” said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint;“I’ll call at Sowerberry’s as I go home, and tell him to sendto-morrow morning. Was it that as frightened you, love?”

“It wasn’t anything particular, dear,” said the ladyevasively.

“It must have been something, love,” urged Mr. Bumble.“Won’t you tell your own B.?”

“Not now,” rejoined the lady; “one of these days. Afterwe’re married, dear.”

“After we’re married!” exclaimed Mr. Bumble. “Itwasn’t any impudence from any of them male paupers as—”

“No, no, love!” interposed the lady, hastily.

“If I thought it was,” continued Mr. Bumble; “if I thought asany one of ’em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovelycountenance—”

“They wouldn’t have dared to do it, love,” responded thelady.

“They had better not!” said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist.“Let me see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to doit; and I can tell him that he wouldn’t do it a second time!”

Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have seemed no veryhigh compliment to the lady’s charms; but, as Mr. Bumble accompanied thethreat with many warlike gestures, she was much touched with this proof of hisdevotion, and protested, with great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.

The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked hat; and, havingexchanged a long and affectionate embrace with his future partner, once againbraved the cold wind of the night: merely pausing, for a few minutes, in themale paupers’ ward, to abuse them a little, with the view of satisfyinghimself that he could fill the office of workhouse-master with needfulacerbity. Assured of his qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with alight heart, and bright visions of his future promotion: which served to occupyhis mind until he reached the shop of the undertaker.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper: and NoahClaypole not being at any time disposed to take upon himself a greater amountof physical exertion than is necessary to a convenient performance of the twofunctions of eating and drinking, the shop was not closed, although it was pastthe usual hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the counterseveral times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding a light shiningthrough the glass-window of the little parlour at the back of the shop, he madebold to peep in and see what was going forward; and when he saw what was goingforward, he was not a little surprised.

The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread and butter,plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the upper end of thetable, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently in an easy-chair, with his legsthrown over one of the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass ofbuttered bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening oystersfrom a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow, with remarkableavidity. A more than ordinary redness in the region of the younggentleman’s nose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted thathe was in a slight degree intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by theintense relish with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strongappreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of internal fever, couldhave sufficiently accounted.

“Here’s a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!” said Charlotte;“try him, do; only this one.”

“What a delicious thing is a oyster!” remarked Mr. Claypole, afterhe had swallowed it. “What a pity it is, a number of ’em shouldever make you feel uncomfortable; isn’t it, Charlotte?”

“It’s quite a cruelty,” said Charlotte.

“So it is,” acquiesced Mr. Claypole. “An’t yer fond ofoysters?”

“Not overmuch,” replied Charlotte. “I like to see you eat’em, Noah dear, better than eating ’em myself.”

“Lor!” said Noah, reflectively; “how queer!”

“Have another,” said Charlotte. “Here’s one with such abeautiful, delicate beard!”

“I can’t manage any more,” said Noah. “I’m verysorry. Come here, Charlotte, and I’ll kiss yer.”

“What!” said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. “Say thatagain, sir.”

Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr. Claypole,without making any further change in his position than suffering his legs toreach the ground, gazed at the beadle in drunken terror.

“Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!” said Mr. Bumble.“How dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage him,you insolent minx? Kiss her!” exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strongindignation. “Faugh!”

“I didn’t mean to do it!” said Noah, blubbering.“She’s always a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.”

“Oh, Noah,” cried Charlotte, reproachfully.

“Yer are; yer know yer are!” retorted Noah. “She’salways a-doin’ of it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin,please, sir; and makes all manner of love!”

“Silence!” cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. “Take yourselfdownstairs, ma’am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till yourmaster comes home, at your peril; and, when he does come home, tell him thatMr. Bumble said he was to send a old woman’s shell after breakfastto-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!” cried Mr. Bumble, holdingup his hands. “The sin and wickedness of the lower orders in thisporochial district is frightful! If Parliament don’t take theirabominable courses under consideration, this country’s ruined, and thecharacter of the peasantry gone for ever!” With these words, the beadlestrode, with a lofty and gloomy air, from the undertaker’s premises.

And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and have made allnecessary preparations for the old woman’s funeral, let us set on foot afew inquires after young Oliver Twist, and ascertain whether he be still lyingin the ditch where Toby Crackit left him.

“Wolves tear your throats!” muttered Sikes, grinding his teeth.“I wish I was among some of you; you’d howl the hoarser forit.”

As Sikes growled forth this imprecation, with the most desperate ferocity thathis desperate nature was capable of, he rested the body of the wounded boyacross his bended knee; and turned his head, for an instant, to look back athis pursuers.

There was little to be made out, in the mist and darkness; but the loudshouting of men vibrated through the air, and the barking of the neighbouringdogs, roused by the sound of the alarm bell, resounded in every direction.

“Stop, you white-livered hound!” cried the robber, shouting afterToby Crackit, who, making the best use of his long legs, was already ahead.“Stop!”

The repetition of the word, brought Toby to a dead stand-still. For he was notquite satisfied that he was beyond the range of pistol-shot; and Sikes was inno mood to be played with.

“Bear a hand with the boy,” cried Sikes, beckoning furiously to hisconfederate. “Come back!”

Toby made a show of returning; but ventured, in a low voice, broken for want ofbreath, to intimate considerable reluctance as he came slowly along.

“Quicker!” cried Sikes, laying the boy in a dry ditch at his feet,and drawing a pistol from his pocket. “Don’t play booty withme.”

At this moment the noise grew louder. Sikes, again looking round, could discernthat the men who had given chase were already climbing the gate of the field inwhich he stood; and that a couple of dogs were some paces in advance of them.

“It’s all up, Bill!” cried Toby; “drop the kid, andshow ’em your heels.” With this parting advice, Mr. Crackit,preferring the chance of being shot by his friend, to the certainty of beingtaken by his enemies, fairly turned tail, and darted off at full speed. Sikesclenched his teeth; took one look around; threw over the prostrate form ofOliver, the cape in which he had been hurriedly muffled; ran along the front ofthe hedge, as if to distract the attention of those behind, from the spot wherethe boy lay; paused, for a second, before another hedge which met it at rightangles; and whirling his pistol high into the air, cleared it at a bound, andwas gone.

“Ho, ho, there!” cried a tremulous voice in the rear.“Pincher! Neptune! Come here, come here!”

The dogs, who, in common with their masters, seemed to have no particularrelish for the sport in which they were engaged, readily answered to thecommand. Three men, who had by this time advanced some distance into the field,stopped to take counsel together.

“My advice, or, leastways, I should say, my orders, is,”said the fattest man of the party, “that we ’mediately go homeagain.”

“I am agreeable to anything which is agreeable to Mr. Giles,” saida shorter man; who was by no means of a slim figure, and who was very pale inthe face, and very polite: as frightened men frequently are.

“I shouldn’t wish to appear ill-mannered, gentlemen,” saidthe third, who had called the dogs back, “Mr. Giles ought to know.”

“Certainly,” replied the shorter man; “and whatever Mr. Gilessays, it isn’t our place to contradict him. No, no, I know my sitiwation!Thank my stars, I know my sitiwation.” To tell the truth, the little mandid seem to know his situation, and to know perfectly well that it wasby no means a desirable one; for his teeth chattered in his head as he spoke.

“You are afraid, Brittles,” said Mr. Giles.

“I an’t,” said Brittles.

“You are,” said Giles.

“You’re a falsehood, Mr. Giles,” said Brittles.

“You’re a lie, Brittles,” said Mr. Giles.

Now, these four retorts arose from Mr. Giles’s taunt; and Mr.Giles’s taunt had arisen from his indignation at having theresponsibility of going home again, imposed upon himself under cover of acompliment. The third man brought the dispute to a close, most philosophically.

“I’ll tell you what it is, gentlemen,” said he,“we’re all afraid.”

“Speak for yourself, sir,” said Mr. Giles, who was the palest ofthe party.

“So I do,” replied the man. “It’s natural and proper tobe afraid, under such circumstances. I am.”

“So am I,” said Brittles; “only there’s no call to tella man he is, so bounceably.”

These frank admissions softened Mr. Giles, who at once owned that he wasafraid; upon which, they all three faced about, and ran back again with thecompletest unanimity, until Mr. Giles (who had the shortest wind of the party,as was encumbered with a pitchfork) most handsomely insisted on stopping, tomake an apology for his hastiness of speech.

“But it’s wonderful,” said Mr. Giles, when he had explained,“what a man will do, when his blood is up. I should have committedmurder—I know I should—if we’d caught one of themrascals.”

As the other two were impressed with a similar presentiment; and as theirblood, like his, had all gone down again; some speculation ensued upon thecause of this sudden change in their temperament.

“I know what it was,” said Mr. Giles; “it was thegate.”

“I shouldn’t wonder if it was,” exclaimed Brittles, catchingat the idea.

“You may depend upon it,” said Giles, “that that gate stoppedthe flow of the excitement. I felt all mine suddenly going away, as I wasclimbing over it.”

By a remarkable coincidence, the other two had been visited with the sameunpleasant sensation at that precise moment. It was quite obvious, therefore,that it was the gate; especially as there was no doubt regarding the time atwhich the change had taken place, because all three remembered that they hadcome in sight of the robbers at the instant of its occurance.

This dialogue was held between the two men who had surprised the burglars, anda travelling tinker who had been sleeping in an outhouse, and who had beenroused, together with his two mongrel curs, to join in the pursuit. Mr. Gilesacted in the double capacity of butler and steward to the old lady of themansion; Brittles was a lad of all-work: who, having entered her service a merechild, was treated as a promising young boy still, though he was something pastthirty.

Encouraging each other with such converse as this; but, keeping very closetogether, notwithstanding, and looking apprehensively round, whenever a freshgust rattled through the boughs; the three men hurried back to a tree, behindwhich they had left their lantern, lest its light should inform the thieves inwhat direction to fire. Catching up the light, they made the best of their wayhome, at a good round trot; and long after their dusky forms had ceased to bediscernible, the light might have been seen twinkling and dancing in thedistance, like some exhalation of the damp and gloomy atmosphere through whichit was swiftly borne.

The air grew colder, as day came slowly on; and the mist rolled along theground like a dense cloud of smoke. The grass was wet; the pathways, and lowplaces, were all mire and water; the damp breath of an unwholesome wind wentlanguidly by, with a hollow moaning. Still, Oliver lay motionless andinsensible on the spot where Sikes had left him.

Morning drew on apace. The air become more sharp and piercing, as its firstdull hue—the death of night, rather than the birth of day—glimmeredfaintly in the sky. The objects which had looked dim and terrible in thedarkness, grew more and more defined, and gradually resolved into theirfamiliar shapes. The rain came down, thick and fast, and pattered noisily amongthe leafless bushes. But, Oliver felt it not, as it beat against him; for hestill lay stretched, helpless and unconscious, on his bed of clay.

At length, a low cry of pain broke the stillness that prevailed; and utteringit, the boy awoke. His left arm, rudely bandaged in a shawl, hung heavy anduseless at his side; the bandage was saturated with blood. He was so weak, thathe could scarcely raise himself into a sitting posture; when he had done so, helooked feebly round for help, and groaned with pain. Trembling in every joint,from cold and exhaustion, he made an effort to stand upright; but, shudderingfrom head to foot, fell prostrate on the ground.

After a short return of the stupor in which he had been so long plunged,Oliver: urged by a creeping sickness at his heart, which seemed to warn himthat if he lay there, he must surely die: got upon his feet, and essayed towalk. His head was dizzy, and he staggered to and fro like a drunken man. Buthe kept up, nevertheless, and, with his head drooping languidly on his breast,went stumbling onward, he knew not whither.

And now, hosts of bewildering and confused ideas came crowding on his mind. Heseemed to be still walking between Sikes and Crackit, who were angrilydisputing—for the very words they said, sounded in his ears; and when hecaught his own attention, as it were, by making some violent effort to savehimself from falling, he found that he was talking to them. Then, he was alonewith Sikes, plodding on as on the previous day; and as shadowy people passedthem, he felt the robber’s grasp upon his wrist. Suddenly, he startedback at the report of firearms; there rose into the air, loud cries and shouts;lights gleamed before his eyes; all was noise and tumult, as some unseen handbore him hurriedly away. Through all these rapid visions, there ran anundefined, uneasy consciousness of pain, which wearied and tormented himincessantly.

Thus he staggered on, creeping, almost mechanically, between the bars of gates,or through hedge-gaps as they came in his way, until he reached a road. Herethe rain began to fall so heavily, that it roused him.

He looked about, and saw that at no great distance there was a house, whichperhaps he could reach. Pitying his condition, they might have compassion onhim; and if they did not, it would be better, he thought, to die near humanbeings, than in the lonely open fields. He summoned up all his strength for onelast trial, and bent his faltering steps towards it.

As he drew nearer to this house, a feeling come over him that he had seen itbefore. He remembered nothing of its details; but the shape and aspect of thebuilding seemed familiar to him.

That garden wall! On the grass inside, he had fallen on his knees last night,and prayed the two men’s mercy. It was the very house they had attemptedto rob.

Oliver felt such fear come over him when he recognised the place, that, for theinstant, he forgot the agony of his wound, and thought only of flight. Flight!He could scarcely stand: and if he were in full possession of all the bestpowers of his slight and youthful frame, whither could he fly? He pushedagainst the garden-gate; it was unlocked, and swung open on its hinges. Hetottered across the lawn; climbed the steps; knocked faintly at the door; and,his whole strength failing him, sunk down against one of the pillars of thelittle portico.

It happened that about this time, Mr. Giles, Brittles, and the tinker, wererecruiting themselves, after the fatigues and terrors of the night, with teaand sundries, in the kitchen. Not that it was Mr. Giles’s habit to admitto too great familiarity the humbler servants: towards whom it was rather hiswont to deport himself with a lofty affability, which, while it gratified,could not fail to remind them of his superior position in society. But, death,fires, and burglary, make all men equals; so Mr. Giles sat with his legsstretched out before the kitchen fender, leaning his left arm on the table,while, with his right, he illustrated a circumstantial and minute account ofthe robbery, to which his bearers (but especially the cook and housemaid, whowere of the party) listened with breathless interest.

“It was about half-past two,” said Mr. Giles, “or Iwouldn’t swear that it mightn’t have been a little nearer three,when I woke up, and, turning round in my bed, as it might be so, (here Mr.Giles turned round in his chair, and pulled the corner of the table-cloth overhim to imitate bed-clothes,) I fancied I heerd a noise.”

At this point of the narrative the cook turned pale, and asked the housemaid toshut the door: who asked Brittles, who asked the tinker, who pretended not tohear.

“—Heerd a noise,” continued Mr. Giles. “I says, atfirst, ‘This is illusion’; and was composing myself off to sleep,when I heerd the noise again, distinct.”

“What sort of a noise?” asked the cook.

“A kind of a busting noise,” replied Mr. Giles, looking round him.

“More like the noise of powdering a iron bar on a nutmeg-grater,”suggested Brittles.

“It was, when you heerd it, sir,” rejoined Mr. Giles;“but, at this time, it had a busting sound. I turned down theclothes”; continued Giles, rolling back the table-cloth, “sat up inbed; and listened.”

The cook and housemaid simultaneously ejaculated “Lor!” and drewtheir chairs closer together.

“I heerd it now, quite apparent,” resumed Mr. Giles.“‘Somebody,’ I says, ‘is forcing of a door, or window;what’s to be done? I’ll call up that poor lad, Brittles, and savehim from being murdered in his bed; or his throat,’ I says, ‘may becut from his right ear to his left, without his ever knowing it.’”

Here, all eyes were turned upon Brittles, who fixed his upon the speaker, andstared at him, with his mouth wide open, and his face expressive of the mostunmitigated horror.

“I tossed off the clothes,” said Giles, throwing away thetable-cloth, and looking very hard at the cook and housemaid, “got softlyout of bed; drew on a pair of—”

“Ladies present, Mr. Giles,” murmured the tinker.

“—Of shoes, sir,” said Giles, turning upon him, andlaying great emphasis on the word; “seized the loaded pistol that alwaysgoes upstairs with the plate-basket; and walked on tiptoes to his room.‘Brittles,’ I says, when I had woke him, ‘don’t befrightened!’”

“So you did,” observed Brittles, in a low voice.

“‘We’re dead men, I think, Brittles,’ I says,”continued Giles; “‘but don’t be frightened.’”

Was he frightened?” asked the cook.

“Not a bit of it,” replied Mr. Giles. “He was asfirm—ah! pretty near as firm as I was.”

“I should have died at once, I’m sure, if it had been me,”observed the housemaid.

“You’re a woman,” retorted Brittles, plucking up a little.

“Brittles is right,” said Mr. Giles, nodding his head, approvingly;“from a woman, nothing else was to be expected. We, being men, took adark lantern that was standing on Brittle’s hob, and groped our waydownstairs in the pitch dark,—as it might be so.”

Mr. Giles had risen from his seat, and taken two steps with his eyes shut, toaccompany his description with appropriate action, when he started violently,in common with the rest of the company, and hurried back to his chair. The cookand housemaid screamed.

“It was a knock,” said Mr. Giles, assuming perfect serenity.“Open the door, somebody.”

Nobody moved.

“It seems a strange sort of a thing, a knock coming at such a time in themorning,” said Mr. Giles, surveying the pale faces which surrounded him,and looking very blank himself; “but the door must be opened. Do youhear, somebody?”

Mr. Giles, as he spoke, looked at Brittles; but that young man, being naturallymodest, probably considered himself nobody, and so held that the inquiry couldnot have any application to him; at all events, he tendered no reply. Mr. Gilesdirected an appealing glance at the tinker; but he had suddenly fallen asleep.The women were out of the question.

“If Brittles would rather open the door, in the presence ofwitnesses,” said Mr. Giles, after a short silence, “I am ready tomake one.”

“So am I,” said the tinker, waking up, as suddenly as he had fallenasleep.

Brittles capitulated on these terms; and the party being somewhat re-assured bythe discovery (made on throwing open the shutters) that it was now broad day,took their way upstairs; with the dogs in front. The two women, who were afraidto stay below, brought up the rear. By the advice of Mr. Giles, they all talkedvery loud, to warn any evil-disposed person outside, that they were strong innumbers; and by a master-stoke of policy, originating in the brain of the sameingenious gentleman, the dogs’ tails were well pinched, in the hall, tomake them bark savagely.

These precautions having been taken, Mr. Giles held on fast by thetinker’s arm (to prevent his running away, as he pleasantly said), andgave the word of command to open the door. Brittles obeyed; the group, peepingtimorously over each other’s shoulders, beheld no more formidable objectthan poor little Oliver Twist, speechless and exhausted, who raised his heavyeyes, and mutely solicited their compassion.

“A boy!” exclaimed Mr. Giles, valiantly, pushing the tinker intothe background. “What’s the matter withthe—eh?—Why—Brittles—look here—don’t youknow?”

Brittles, who had got behind the door to open it, no sooner saw Oliver, than heuttered a loud cry. Mr. Giles, seizing the boy by one leg and one arm(fortunately not the broken limb) lugged him straight into the hall, anddeposited him at full length on the floor thereof.

“Here he is!” bawled Giles, calling in a state of great excitement,up the staircase; “here’s one of the thieves, ma’am!Here’s a thief, miss! Wounded, miss! I shot him, miss; and Brittles heldthe light.”

“—In a lantern, miss,” cried Brittles, applying one hand tothe side of his mouth, so that his voice might travel the better.

The two women-servants ran upstairs to carry the intelligence that Mr. Gileshad captured a robber; and the tinker busied himself in endeavouring to restoreOliver, lest he should die before he could be hanged. In the midst of all thisnoise and commotion, there was heard a sweet female voice, which quelled it inan instant.

“Giles!” whispered the voice from the stair-head.

“I’m here, miss,” replied Mr. Giles. “Don’t befrightened, miss; I ain’t much injured. He didn’t make a verydesperate resistance, miss! I was soon too many for him.”

“Hush!” replied the young lady; “you frighten my aunt as muchas the thieves did. Is the poor creature much hurt?”

“Wounded desperate, miss,” replied Giles, with indescribablecomplacency.

“He looks as if he was a-going, miss,” bawled Brittles, in the samemanner as before. “Wouldn’t you like to come and look at him, miss,in case he should?”

“Hush, pray; there’s a good man!” rejoined the lady.“Wait quietly only one instant, while I speak to aunt.”

With a footstep as soft and gentle as the voice, the speaker tripped away. Shesoon returned, with the direction that the wounded person was to be carried,carefully, upstairs to Mr. Giles’s room; and that Brittles was to saddlethe pony and betake himself instantly to Chertsey: from which place, he was todespatch, with all speed, a constable and doctor.

“But won’t you take one look at him, first, miss?” asked Mr.Giles, with as much pride as if Oliver were some bird of rare plumage, that hehad skilfully brought down. “Not one little peep, miss?”

“Not now, for the world,” replied the young lady. “Poorfellow! Oh! treat him kindly, Giles for my sake!”

The old servant looked up at the speaker, as she turned away, with a glance asproud and admiring as if she had been his own child. Then, bending over Oliver,he helped to carry him upstairs, with the care and solicitude of a woman.

In a handsome room: though its furniture had rather the air of old-fashionedcomfort, than of modern elegance: there sat two ladies at a well-spreadbreakfast-table. Mr. Giles, dressed with scrupulous care in a full suit ofblack, was in attendance upon them. He had taken his station some half-waybetween the side-board and the breakfast-table; and, with his body drawn up toits full height, his head thrown back, and inclined the merest trifle on oneside, his left leg advanced, and his right hand thrust into his waist-coat,while his left hung down by his side, grasping a waiter, looked like one wholaboured under a very agreeable sense of his own merits and importance.

Of the two ladies, one was well advanced in years; but the high-backed oakenchair in which she sat, was not more upright than she. Dressed with the utmostnicety and precision, in a quaint mixture of by-gone costume, with some slightconcessions to the prevailing taste, which rather served to point the old stylepleasantly than to impair its effect, she sat, in a stately manner, with herhands folded on the table before her. Her eyes (and age had dimmed but littleof their brightness) were attentively upon her young companion.

The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time of womanhood; at thatage, when, if ever angels be for God’s good purposes enthroned in mortalforms, they may be, without impiety, supposed to abide in such as hers.

She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould; so mildand gentle; so pure and beautiful; that earth seemed not her element, nor itsrough creatures her fit companions. The very intelligence that shone in herdeep blue eye, and was stamped upon her noble head, seemed scarcely of her age,or of the world; and yet the changing expression of sweetness and good humour,the thousand lights that played about the face, and left no shadow there; aboveall, the smile, the cheerful, happy smile, were made for Home, and firesidepeace and happiness.

She was busily engaged in the little offices of the table. Chancing to raiseher eyes as the elder lady was regarding her, she playfully put back her hair,which was simply braided on her forehead; and threw into her beaming look, suchan expression of affection and artless loveliness, that blessed spirits mighthave smiled to look upon her.

“And Brittles has been gone upwards of an hour, has he?” asked theold lady, after a pause.

“An hour and twelve minutes, ma’am,” replied Mr. Giles,referring to a silver watch, which he drew forth by a black ribbon.

“He is always slow,” remarked the old lady.

“Brittles always was a slow boy, ma’am,” replied theattendant. And seeing, by the bye, that Brittles had been a slow boy forupwards of thirty years, there appeared no great probability of his ever beinga fast one.

“He gets worse instead of better, I think,” said the elder lady.

“It is very inexcusable in him if he stops to play with any otherboys,” said the young lady, smiling.

Mr. Giles was apparently considering the propriety of indulging in a respectfulsmile himself, when a gig drove up to the garden-gate: out of which therejumped a fat gentleman, who ran straight up to the door: and who, gettingquickly into the house by some mysterious process, burst into the room, andnearly overturned Mr. Giles and the breakfast-table together.

“I never heard of such a thing!” exclaimed the fat gentleman.“My dear Mrs. Maylie—bless my soul—in the silence of thenight, too—I never heard of such a thing!”

With these expressions of condolence, the fat gentleman shook hands with bothladies, and drawing up a chair, inquired how they found themselves.

“You ought to be dead; positively dead with the fright,” said thefat gentleman. “Why didn’t you send? Bless me, my man should havecome in a minute; and so would I; and my assistant would have been delighted;or anybody, I’m sure, under such circumstances. Dear, dear! Sounexpected! In the silence of the night, too!”

The doctor seemed especially troubled by the fact of the robbery having beenunexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if it were the establishedcustom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way to transact business at noon, andto make an appointment, by post, a day or two previous.

“And you, Miss Rose,” said the doctor, turning to the young lady,“I—”

“Oh! very much so, indeed,” said Rose, interrupting him; “butthere is a poor creature upstairs, whom aunt wishes you to see.”

“Ah! to be sure,” replied the doctor, “so there is. That wasyour handiwork, Giles, I understand.”

Mr. Giles, who had been feverishly putting the tea-cups to rights, blushed veryred, and said that he had had that honour.

“Honour, eh?” said the doctor; “well, I don’t know;perhaps it’s as honourable to hit a thief in a back kitchen, as to hityour man at twelve paces. Fancy that he fired in the air, and you’vefought a duel, Giles.”

Mr. Giles, who thought this light treatment of the matter an unjust attempt atdiminishing his glory, answered respectfully, that it was not for the like ofhim to judge about that; but he rather thought it was no joke to the oppositeparty.

“Gad, that’s true!” said the doctor. “Where is he? Showme the way. I’ll look in again, as I come down, Mrs. Maylie. That’sthe little window that he got in at, eh? Well, I couldn’t have believedit!”

Talking all the way, he followed Mr. Giles upstairs; and while he is goingupstairs, the reader may be informed, that Mr. Losberne, a surgeon in theneighbourhood, known through a circuit of ten miles round as “thedoctor,” had grown fat, more from good-humour than from good living: andwas as kind and hearty, and withal as eccentric an old bachelor, as will befound in five times that space, by any explorer alive.

The doctor was absent, much longer than either he or the ladies hadanticipated. A large flat box was fetched out of the gig; and a bedroom bellwas rung very often; and the servants ran up and down stairs perpetually; fromwhich tokens it was justly concluded that something important was going onabove. At length he returned; and in reply to an anxious inquiry after hispatient; looked very mysterious, and closed the door, carefully.

“This is a very extraordinary thing, Mrs. Maylie,” said the doctor,standing with his back to the door, as if to keep it shut.

“He is not in danger, I hope?” said the old lady.

“Why, that would not be an extraordinary thing, under thecircumstances,” replied the doctor; “though I don’t think heis. Have you seen the thief?”

“No,” rejoined the old lady.

“Nor heard anything about him?”

“No.”

“I beg your pardon, ma’am, interposed Mr. Giles; “but I wasgoing to tell you about him when Doctor Losberne came in.”

The fact was, that Mr. Giles had not, at first, been able to bring his mind tothe avowal, that he had only shot a boy. Such commendations had been bestowedupon his bravery, that he could not, for the life of him, help postponing theexplanation for a few delicious minutes; during which he had flourished, in thevery zenith of a brief reputation for undaunted courage.

“Rose wished to see the man,” said Mrs. Maylie, “but Iwouldn’t hear of it.”

“Humph!” rejoined the doctor. “There is nothing very alarmingin his appearance. Have you any objection to see him in my presence?”

“If it be necessary,” replied the old lady, “certainlynot.”

“Then I think it is necessary,” said the doctor; “at allevents, I am quite sure that you would deeply regret not having done so, if youpostponed it. He is perfectly quiet and comfortable now. Allow me—MissRose, will you permit me? Not the slightest fear, I pledge you myhonour!”

With many loquacious assurances that they would be agreeably surprised in theaspect of the criminal, the doctor drew the young lady’s arm through oneof his; and offering his disengaged hand to Mrs. Maylie, led them, with muchceremony and stateliness, upstairs.

“Now,” said the doctor, in a whisper, as he softly turned thehandle of a bedroom-door, “let us hear what you think of him. He has notbeen shaved very recently, but he don’t look at all ferociousnotwithstanding. Stop, though! Let me first see that he is in visitingorder.”

Stepping before them, he looked into the room. Motioning them to advance, heclosed the door when they had entered; and gently drew back the curtains of thebed. Upon it, in lieu of the dogged, black-visaged ruffian they had expected tobehold, there lay a mere child: worn with pain and exhaustion, and sunk into adeep sleep. His wounded arm, bound and splintered up, was crossed upon hisbreast; his head reclined upon the other arm, which was half hidden by his longhair, as it streamed over the pillow.

The honest gentleman held the curtain in his hand, and looked on, for a minuteor so, in silence. Whilst he was watching the patient thus, the younger ladyglided softly past, and seating herself in a chair by the bedside, gatheredOliver’s hair from his face. As she stooped over him, her tears fell uponhis forehead.

The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though these marks of pity andcompassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and affection he hadnever known. Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in asilent place, or the odour of a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, willsometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, in thislife; which vanish like a breath; which some brief memory of a happierexistence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened; which no voluntaryexertion of the mind can ever recall.

“What can this mean?” exclaimed the elder lady. “This poorchild can never have been the pupil of robbers!”

“Vice,” said the surgeon, replacing the curtain, “takes upher abode in many temples; and who can say that a fair outside shell notenshrine her?”

“But at so early an age!” urged Rose.

“My dear young lady,” rejoined the surgeon, mournfully shaking hishead; “crime, like death, is not confined to the old and withered alone.The youngest and fairest are too often its chosen victims.”

“But, can you—oh! can you really believe that this delicate boy hasbeen the voluntary associate of the worst outcasts of society?” saidRose.

The surgeon shook his head, in a manner which intimated that he feared it wasvery possible; and observing that they might disturb the patient, led the wayinto an adjoining apartment.

“But even if he has been wicked,” pursued Rose, “think howyoung he is; think that he may never have known a mother’s love, or thecomfort of a home; that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread, may havedriven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt. Aunt, dear aunt, formercy’s sake, think of this, before you let them drag this sick child toa prison, which in any case must be the grave of all his chances of amendment.Oh! as you love me, and know that I have never felt the want of parents in yourgoodness and affection, but that I might have done so, and might have beenequally helpless and unprotected with this poor child, have pity upon himbefore it is too late!”

“My dear love,” said the elder lady, as she folded the weeping girlto her bosom, “do you think I would harm a hair of his head?”

“Oh, no!” replied Rose, eagerly.

“No, surely,” said the old lady; “my days are drawing totheir close: and may mercy be shown to me as I show it to others! What can I doto save him, sir?”

“Let me think, ma’am,” said the doctor; “let methink.”

Mr. Losberne thrust his hands into his pockets, and took several turns up anddown the room; often stopping, and balancing himself on his toes, and frowningfrightfully. After various exclamations of “I’ve got it now”and “no, I haven’t,” and as many renewals of the walking andfrowning, he at length made a dead halt, and spoke as follows:

“I think if you give me a full and unlimited commission to bully Giles,and that little boy, Brittles, I can manage it. Giles is a faithful fellow andan old servant, I know; but you can make it up to him in a thousand ways, andreward him for being such a good shot besides. You don’t object tothat?”

“Unless there is some other way of preserving the child,” repliedMrs. Maylie.

“There is no other,” said the doctor. “No other, take my wordfor it.”

“Then my aunt invests you with full power,” said Rose, smilingthrough her tears; “but pray don’t be harder upon the poor fellowsthan is indispensably necessary.”

“You seem to think,” retorted the doctor, “that everybody isdisposed to be hard-hearted to-day, except yourself, Miss Rose. I only hope,for the sake of the rising male sex generally, that you may be found in asvulnerable and soft-hearted a mood by the first eligible young fellow whoappeals to your compassion; and I wish I were a young fellow, that I mightavail myself, on the spot, of such a favourable opportunity for doing so, asthe present.”

“You are as great a boy as poor Brittles himself,” returned Rose,blushing.

“Well,” said the doctor, laughing heartily, “that is no verydifficult matter. But to return to this boy. The great point of our agreementis yet to come. He will wake in an hour or so, I dare say; and although I havetold that thick-headed constable-fellow downstairs that he musn’t bemoved or spoken to, on peril of his life, I think we may converse with himwithout danger. Now I make this stipulation—that I shall examine him inyour presence, and that, if, from what he says, we judge, and I can show to thesatisfaction of your cool reason, that he is a real and thorough bad one (whichis more than possible), he shall be left to his fate, without any fartherinterference on my part, at all events.”

“Oh no, aunt!” entreated Rose.

“Oh yes, aunt!” said the doctor. “Is is a bargain?”

“He cannot be hardened in vice,” said Rose; “It isimpossible.”

“Very good,” retorted the doctor; “then so much the morereason for acceding to my proposition.”

Finally the treaty was entered into; and the parties thereunto sat down towait, with some impatience, until Oliver should awake.

The patience of the two ladies was destined to undergo a longer trial than Mr.Losberne had led them to expect; for hour after hour passed on, and stillOliver slumbered heavily. It was evening, indeed, before the kind-hearteddoctor brought them the intelligence, that he was at length sufficientlyrestored to be spoken to. The boy was very ill, he said, and weak from the lossof blood; but his mind was so troubled with anxiety to disclose something, thathe deemed it better to give him the opportunity, than to insist upon hisremaining quiet until next morning: which he should otherwise have done.

The conference was a long one. Oliver told them all his simple history, and wasoften compelled to stop, by pain and want of strength. It was a solemn thing,to hear, in the darkened room, the feeble voice of the sick child recounting aweary catalogue of evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him.Oh! if when we oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowed but onethought on the dark evidences of human error, which, like dense and heavyclouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but not less surely, to Heaven, to pourtheir after-vengeance on our heads; if we heard but one instant, inimagination, the deep testimony of dead men’s voices, which no power canstifle, and no pride shut out; where would be the injury and injustice, thesuffering, misery, cruelty, and wrong, that each day’s life brings withit!

Oliver’s pillow was smoothed by gentle hands that night; and lovelinessand virtue watched him as he slept. He felt calm and happy, and could have diedwithout a murmur.

The momentous interview was no sooner concluded, and Oliver composed to restagain, than the doctor, after wiping his eyes, and condemning them for beingweak all at once, betook himself downstairs to open upon Mr. Giles. And findingnobody about the parlours, it occurred to him, that he could perhaps originatethe proceedings with better effect in the kitchen; so into the kitchen he went.

There were assembled, in that lower house of the domestic parliament, thewomen-servants, Mr. Brittles, Mr. Giles, the tinker (who had received a specialinvitation to regale himself for the remainder of the day, in consideration ofhis services), and the constable. The latter gentleman had a large staff, alarge head, large features, and large half-boots; and he looked as if he hadbeen taking a proportionate allowance of ale—as indeed he had.

The adventures of the previous night were still under discussion; for Mr. Gileswas expatiating upon his presence of mind, when the doctor entered; Mr.Brittles, with a mug of ale in his hand, was corroborating everything, beforehis superior said it.

“Sit still!” said the doctor, waving his hand.

“Thank you, sir,” said Mr. Giles. “Misses wished some ale tobe given out, sir; and as I felt no ways inclined for my own little room, sir,and was disposed for company, I am taking mine among ’em here.”

Brittles headed a low murmur, by which the ladies and gentlemen generally wereunderstood to express the gratification they derived from Mr. Giles’scondescension. Mr. Giles looked round with a patronising air, as much as to saythat so long as they behaved properly, he would never desert them.

“How is the patient to-night, sir?” asked Giles.

“So-so”; returned the doctor. “I am afraid you have gotyourself into a scrape there, Mr. Giles.”

“I hope you don’t mean to say, sir,” said Mr. Giles,trembling, “that he’s going to die. If I thought it, I should neverbe happy again. I wouldn’t cut a boy off: no, not even Brittles here; notfor all the plate in the county, sir.”

“That’s not the point,” said the doctor, mysteriously.“Mr. Giles, are you a Protestant?”

“Yes, sir, I hope so,” faltered Mr. Giles, who had turned verypale.

“And what are you, boy?” said the doctor, turning sharplyupon Brittles.

“Lord bless me, sir!” replied Brittles, starting violently;“I’m the same as Mr. Giles, sir.”

“Then tell me this,” said the doctor, “both of you, both ofyou! Are you going to take upon yourselves to swear, that that boy upstairs isthe boy that was put through the little window last night? Out with it! Come!We are prepared for you!”

The doctor, who was universally considered one of the best-tempered creatureson earth, made this demand in such a dreadful tone of anger, that Giles andBrittles, who were considerably muddled by ale and excitement, stared at eachother in a state of stupefaction.

“Pay attention to the reply, constable, will you?” said the doctor,shaking his forefinger with great solemnity of manner, and tapping the bridgeof his nose with it, to bespeak the exercise of that worthy’s utmostacuteness. “Something may come of this before long.”

The constable looked as wise as he could, and took up his staff of office:which had been reclining indolently in the chimney-corner.

“It’s a simple question of identity, you will observe,” saidthe doctor.

“That’s what it is, sir,” replied the constable, coughingwith great violence; for he had finished his ale in a hurry, and some of it hadgone the wrong way.

“Here’s the house broken into,” said the doctor, “and acouple of men catch one moment’s glimpse of a boy, in the midst ofgunpowder smoke, and in all the distraction of alarm and darkness. Here’sa boy comes to that very same house, next morning, and because he happens tohave his arm tied up, these men lay violent hands upon him—by doingwhich, they place his life in great danger—and swear he is the thief.Now, the question is, whether these men are justified by the fact; if not, inwhat situation do they place themselves?”

The constable nodded profoundly. He said, if that wasn’t law, he would beglad to know what was.

“I ask you again,” thundered the doctor, “are you, on yoursolemn oaths, able to identify that boy?”

Brittles looked doubtfully at Mr. Giles; Mr. Giles looked doubtfully atBrittles; the constable put his hand behind his ear, to catch the reply; thetwo women and the tinker leaned forward to listen; the doctor glanced keenlyround; when a ring was heard at the gate, and at the same moment, the sound ofwheels.

“It’s the runners!” cried Brittles, to all appearance muchrelieved.

“The what?” exclaimed the doctor, aghast in his turn.

“The Bow Street officers, sir,” replied Brittles, taking up acandle; “me and Mr. Giles sent for ’em this morning.”

“What?” cried the doctor.

“Yes,” replied Brittles; “I sent a message up by thecoachman, and I only wonder they weren’t here before, sir.”

“You did, did you? Then confound your—slow coaches down here;that’s all,” said the doctor, walking away.

“Who’s that?” inquired Brittles, opening the door a littleway, with the chain up, and peeping out, shading the candle with his hand.

“Open the door,” replied a man outside; “it’s theofficers from Bow Street, as was sent to to-day.”

Much comforted by this assurance, Brittles opened the door to its full width,and confronted a portly man in a great-coat; who walked in, without sayinganything more, and wiped his shoes on the mat, as coolly as if he lived there.

“Just send somebody out to relieve my mate, will you, young man?”said the officer; “he’s in the gig, a-minding the prad. Have yougot a coach ’us here, that you could put it up in, for five or tenminutes?”

Brittles replying in the affirmative, and pointing out the building, the portlyman stepped back to the garden-gate, and helped his companion to put up thegig: while Brittles lighted them, in a state of great admiration. This done,they returned to the house, and, being shown into a parlour, took off theirgreat-coats and hats, and showed like what they were.

The man who had knocked at the door, was a stout personage of middle height,aged about fifty: with shiny black hair, cropped pretty close; half-whiskers, around face, and sharp eyes. The other was a red-headed, bony man, in top-boots;with a rather ill-favoured countenance, and a turned-up sinister-looking nose.

“Tell your governor that Blathers and Duff is here, will you?” saidthe stouter man, smoothing down his hair, and laying a pair of handcuffs on thetable. “Oh! Good-evening, master. Can I have a word or two with you inprivate, if you please?”

This was addressed to Mr. Losberne, who now made his appearance; thatgentleman, motioning Brittles to retire, brought in the two ladies, and shutthe door.

“This is the lady of the house,” said Mr. Losberne, motioningtowards Mrs. Maylie.

Mr. Blathers made a bow. Being desired to sit down, he put his hat on thefloor, and taking a chair, motioned to Duff to do the same. The lattergentleman, who did not appear quite so much accustomed to good society, orquite so much at his ease in it—one of the two—seated himself,after undergoing several muscular affections of the limbs, and the head of hisstick into his mouth, with some embarrassment.

“Now, with regard to this here robbery, master,” said Blathers.“What are the circumstances?”

Mr. Losberne, who appeared desirous of gaining time, recounted them at greatlength, and with much circumlocution. Messrs. Blathers and Duff looked veryknowing meanwhile, and occasionally exchanged a nod.

“I can’t say, for certain, till I see the work, of course,”said Blathers; “but my opinion at once is,—I don’t mindcommitting myself to that extent,—that this wasn’t done by a yokel;eh, Duff?”

“Certainly not,” replied Duff.

“And, translating the word yokel for the benefit of the ladies, Iapprehend your meaning to be, that this attempt was not made by acountryman?” said Mr. Losberne, with a smile.

“That’s it, master,” replied Blathers. “This is allabout the robbery, is it?”

“All,” replied the doctor.

“Now, what is this, about this here boy that the servants are a-talkingon?” said Blathers.

“Nothing at all,” replied the doctor. “One of the frightenedservants chose to take it into his head, that he had something to do with thisattempt to break into the house; but it’s nonsense: sheerabsurdity.”

“Wery easy disposed of, if it is,” remarked Duff.

“What he says is quite correct,” observed Blathers, nodding hishead in a confirmatory way, and playing carelessly with the handcuffs, as ifthey were a pair of castanets. “Who is the boy? What account does he giveof himself? Where did he come from? He didn’t drop out of the clouds, didhe, master?”

“Of course not,” replied the doctor, with a nervous glance at thetwo ladies. “I know his whole history: but we can talk about thatpresently. You would like, first, to see the place where the thieves made theirattempt, I suppose?”

“Certainly,” rejoined Mr. Blathers. “We had better inspectthe premises first, and examine the servants afterwards. That’s the usualway of doing business.”

Lights were then procured; and Messrs. Blathers and Duff, attended by thenative constable, Brittles, Giles, and everybody else in short, went into thelittle room at the end of the passage and looked out at the window; andafterwards went round by way of the lawn, and looked in at the window; andafter that, had a candle handed out to inspect the shutter with; and afterthat, a lantern to trace the footsteps with; and after that, a pitchfork topoke the bushes with. This done, amidst the breathless interest of allbeholders, they came in again; and Mr. Giles and Brittles were put through amelodramatic representation of their share in the previous night’sadventures: which they performed some six times over: contradicting each other,in not more than one important respect, the first time, and in not more than adozen the last. This consummation being arrived at, Blathers and Duff clearedthe room, and held a long council together, compared with which, for secrecyand solemnity, a consultation of great doctors on the knottiest point inmedicine, would be mere child’s play.

Meanwhile, the doctor walked up and down the next room in a very uneasy state;and Mrs. Maylie and Rose looked on, with anxious faces.

“Upon my word,” he said, making a halt, after a great number ofvery rapid turns, “I hardly know what to do.”

“Surely,” said Rose, “the poor child’s story,faithfully repeated to these men, will be sufficient to exonerate him.”

“I doubt it, my dear young lady,” said the doctor, shaking hishead. “I don’t think it would exonerate him, either with them, orwith legal functionaries of a higher grade. What is he, after all, they wouldsay? A runaway. Judged by mere worldly considerations and probabilities, hisstory is a very doubtful one.”

“You believe it, surely?” interrupted Rose.

I believe it, strange as it is; and perhaps I may be an old foolfor doing so,” rejoined the doctor; “but I don’t think it isexactly the tale for a practical police-officer, nevertheless.”

“Why not?” demanded Rose.

“Because, my pretty cross-examiner,” replied the doctor:“because, viewed with their eyes, there are many ugly points about it; hecan only prove the parts that look ill, and none of those that look well.Confound the fellows, they will have the why and the wherefore, and willtake nothing for granted. On his own showing, you see, he has been thecompanion of thieves for some time past; he has been carried to apolice-officer, on a charge of picking a gentleman’s pocket; he has beentaken away, forcibly, from that gentleman’s house, to a place which hecannot describe or point out, and of the situation of which he has not theremotest idea. He is brought down to Chertsey, by men who seem to have taken aviolent fancy to him, whether he will or no; and is put through a window to roba house; and then, just at the very moment when he is going to alarm theinmates, and so do the very thing that would set him all to rights, thererushes into the way, a blundering dog of a half-bred butler, and shoots him! Asif on purpose to prevent his doing any good for himself! Don’t you seeall this?”

“I see it, of course,” replied Rose, smiling at the doctor’simpetuosity; “but still I do not see anything in it, to criminate thepoor child.”

“No,” replied the doctor; “of course not! Bless the brighteyes of your sex! They never see, whether for good or bad, more than one sideof any question; and that is, always, the one which first presents itself tothem.”

Having given vent to this result of experience, the doctor put his hands intohis pockets, and walked up and down the room with even greater rapidity thanbefore.

“The more I think of it,” said the doctor, “the more I seethat it will occasion endless trouble and difficulty if we put these men inpossession of the boy’s real story. I am certain it will not be believed;and even if they can do nothing to him in the end, still the dragging itforward, and giving publicity to all the doubts that will be cast upon it, mustinterfere, materially, with your benevolent plan of rescuing him frommisery.”

“Oh! what is to be done?” cried Rose. “Dear, dear! why didthey send for these people?”

“Why, indeed!” exclaimed Mrs. Maylie. “I would not have hadthem here, for the world.”

“All I know is,” said Mr. Losberne, at last: sitting down with akind of desperate calmness, “that we must try and carry it off with abold face. The object is a good one, and that must be our excuse. The boy hasstrong symptoms of fever upon him, and is in no condition to be talked to anymore; that’s one comfort. We must make the best of it; and if bad be thebest, it is no fault of ours. Come in!”

“Well, master,” said Blathers, entering the room followed by hiscolleague, and making the door fast, before he said any more. “Thiswarn’t a put-up thing.”

“And what the devil’s a put-up thing?” demanded the doctor,impatiently.

“We call it a put-up robbery, ladies,” said Blathers, turning tothem, as if he pitied their ignorance, but had a contempt for thedoctor’s, “when the servants is in it.”

“Nobody suspected them, in this case,” said Mrs. Maylie.

“Wery likely not, ma’am,” replied Blathers; “but theymight have been in it, for all that.”

“More likely on that wery account,” said Duff.

“We find it was a town hand,” said Blathers, continuing his report;“for the style of work is first-rate.”

“Wery pretty indeed it is,” remarked Duff, in an undertone.

“There was two of ’em in it,” continued Blathers; “andthey had a boy with ’em; that’s plain from the size of the window.That’s all to be said at present. We’ll see this lad thatyou’ve got upstairs at once, if you please.”

“Perhaps they will take something to drink first, Mrs. Maylie?”said the doctor: his face brightening, as if some new thought had occurred tohim.

“Oh! to be sure!” exclaimed Rose, eagerly. “You shall have itimmediately, if you will.”

“Why, thank you, miss!” said Blathers, drawing his coat-sleeveacross his mouth; “it’s dry work, this sort of duty. Anythinkthat’s handy, miss; don’t put yourself out of the way, on ouraccounts.”

“What shall it be?” asked the doctor, following the young lady tothe sideboard.

“A little drop of spirits, master, if it’s all the same,”replied Blathers. “It’s a cold ride from London, ma’am; and Ialways find that spirits comes home warmer to the feelings.”

This interesting communication was addressed to Mrs. Maylie, who received itvery graciously. While it was being conveyed to her, the doctor slipped out ofthe room.

“Ah!” said Mr. Blathers: not holding his wine-glass by the stem,but grasping the bottom between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand: andplacing it in front of his chest; “I have seen a good many pieces ofbusiness like this, in my time, ladies.”

“That crack down in the back lane at Edmonton, Blathers,” said Mr.Duff, assisting his colleague’s memory.

“That was something in this way, warn’t it?” rejoined Mr.Blathers; “that was done by Conkey Chickweed, that was.”

“You always gave that to him” replied Duff. “It was theFamily Pet, I tell you. Conkey hadn’t any more to do with it than Ihad.”

“Get out!” retorted Mr. Blathers; “I know better. Do you mindthat time when Conkey was robbed of his money, though? What a start that was!Better than any novel-book I ever see!”

“What was that?” inquired Rose: anxious to encourage any symptomsof good-humour in the unwelcome visitors.

“It was a robbery, miss, that hardly anybody would have been downupon,” said Blathers. “This here Conkey Chickweed—”

“Conkey means Nosey, ma’am,” interposed Duff.

“Of course the lady knows that, don’t she?” demanded Mr.Blathers. “Always interrupting, you are, partner! This here ConkeyChickweed, miss, kept a public-house over Battlebridge way, and he had acellar, where a good many young lords went to see cock-fighting, andbadger-drawing, and that; and a wery intellectual manner the sports wasconducted in, for I’ve seen ’em off’en. He warn’t oneof the family, at that time; and one night he was robbed of three hundred andtwenty-seven guineas in a canvas bag, that was stole out of his bedroom in thedead of night, by a tall man with a black patch over his eye, who had concealedhimself under the bed, and after committing the robbery, jumped slap out ofwindow: which was only a story high. He was wery quick about it. But Conkey wasquick, too; for he fired a blunderbuss arter him, and roused the neighbourhood.They set up a hue-and-cry, directly, and when they came to look about’em, found that Conkey had hit the robber; for there was traces of blood,all the way to some palings a good distance off; and there they lost ’em.However, he had made off with the blunt; and, consequently, the name of Mr.Chickweed, licensed witler, appeared in the Gazette among the other bankrupts;and all manner of benefits and subscriptions, and I don’t know what all,was got up for the poor man, who was in a wery low state of mind about hisloss, and went up and down the streets, for three or four days, a pulling hishair off in such a desperate manner that many people was afraid he might begoing to make away with himself. One day he came up to the office, all in ahurry, and had a private interview with the magistrate, who, after a deal oftalk, rings the bell, and orders Jem Spyers in (Jem was a active officer), andtells him to go and assist Mr. Chickweed in apprehending the man as robbed hishouse. ‘I see him, Spyers,’ said Chickweed, ‘pass my houseyesterday morning,’ ‘Why didn’t you up, and collarhim!’ says Spyers. ‘I was so struck all of a heap, that you mighthave fractured my skull with a toothpick,’ says the poor man; ‘butwe’re sure to have him; for between ten and eleven o’clock at nighthe passed again.’ Spyers no sooner heard this, than he put some cleanlinen and a comb, in his pocket, in case he should have to stop a day or two;and away he goes, and sets himself down at one of the public-house windowsbehind the little red curtain, with his hat on, all ready to bolt out, at amoment’s notice. He was smoking his pipe here, late at night, when all ofa sudden Chickweed roars out, ‘Here he is! Stop thief! Murder!’ JemSpyers dashes out; and there he sees Chickweed, a-tearing down the street fullcry. Away goes Spyers; on goes Chickweed; round turns the people; everybodyroars out, ‘Thieves!’ and Chickweed himself keeps on shouting, allthe time, like mad. Spyers loses sight of him a minute as he turns a corner;shoots round; sees a little crowd; dives in; ‘Which is the man?’‘D—me!’ says Chickweed, ‘I’ve lost himagain!’ It was a remarkable occurrence, but he warn’t to be seennowhere, so they went back to the public-house. Next morning, Spyers took hisold place, and looked out, from behind the curtain, for a tall man with a blackpatch over his eye, till his own two eyes ached again. At last, hecouldn’t help shutting ’em, to ease ’em a minute; and thevery moment he did so, he hears Chickweed a-roaring out, ‘Here heis!’ Off he starts once more, with Chickweed half-way down the streetahead of him; and after twice as long a run as the yesterday’s one, theman’s lost again! This was done, once or twice more, till one-half theneighbours gave out that Mr. Chickweed had been robbed by the devil, who wasplaying tricks with him arterwards; and the other half, that poor Mr. Chickweedhad gone mad with grief.”

“What did Jem Spyers say?” inquired the doctor; who had returned tothe room shortly after the commencement of the story.

“Jem Spyers,” resumed the officer, “for a long time saidnothing at all, and listened to everything without seeming to, which showed heunderstood his business. But, one morning, he walked into the bar, and takingout his snuffbox, says ‘Chickweed, I’ve found out who done thishere robbery.’ ‘Have you?’ said Chickweed. ‘Oh, my dearSpyers, only let me have wengeance, and I shall die contented! Oh, my dearSpyers, where is the villain!’ ‘Come!’ said Spyers, offeringhim a pinch of snuff, ‘none of that gammon! You did it yourself.’So he had; and a good bit of money he had made by it, too; and nobody wouldnever have found it out, if he hadn’t been so precious anxious to keep upappearances!” said Mr. Blathers, putting down his wine-glass, andclinking the handcuffs together.

“Very curious, indeed,” observed the doctor. “Now, if youplease, you can walk upstairs.”

“If you please, sir,” returned Mr. Blathers. Closelyfollowing Mr. Losberne, the two officers ascended to Oliver’s bedroom;Mr. Giles preceding the party, with a lighted candle.

Oliver had been dozing; but looked worse, and was more feverish than he hadappeared yet. Being assisted by the doctor, he managed to sit up in bed for aminute or so; and looked at the strangers without at all understanding what wasgoing forward—in fact, without seeming to recollect where he was, or whathad been passing.

“This,” said Mr. Losberne, speaking softly, but with greatvehemence notwithstanding, “this is the lad, who, being accidentlywounded by a spring-gun in some boyish trespass on Mr. What-d’ye-call-him’s grounds, at the back here, comes to the house forassistance this morning, and is immediately laid hold of and maltreated, bythat ingenious gentleman with the candle in his hand: who has placed his lifein considerable danger, as I can professionally certify.”

Messrs. Blathers and Duff looked at Mr. Giles, as he was thus recommended totheir notice. The bewildered butler gazed from them towards Oliver, and fromOliver towards Mr. Losberne, with a most ludicrous mixture of fear andperplexity.

“You don’t mean to deny that, I suppose?” said the doctor,laying Oliver gently down again.

“It was all done for the—for the best, sir,” answered Giles.“I am sure I thought it was the boy, or I wouldn’t have meddledwith him. I am not of an inhuman disposition, sir.”

“Thought it was what boy?” inquired the senior officer.

“The housebreaker’s boy, sir!” replied Giles.“They—they certainly had a boy.”

“Well? Do you think so now?” inquired Blathers.

“Think what, now?” replied Giles, looking vacantly at hisquestioner.

“Think it’s the same boy, Stupid-head?” rejoined Blathers,impatiently.

“I don’t know; I really don’t know,” said Giles, with arueful countenance. “I couldn’t swear to him.”

“What do you think?” asked Mr. Blathers.

“I don’t know what to think,” replied poor Giles. “Idon’t think it is the boy; indeed, I’m almost certain that itisn’t. You know it can’t be.”

“Has this man been a-drinking, sir?” inquired Blathers, turning tothe doctor.

“What a precious muddle-headed chap you are!” said Duff, addressingMr. Giles, with supreme contempt.

Mr. Losberne had been feeling the patient’s pulse during this shortdialogue; but he now rose from the chair by the bedside, and remarked, that ifthe officers had any doubts upon the subject, they would perhaps like to stepinto the next room, and have Brittles before them.

Acting upon this suggestion, they adjourned to a neighbouring apartment, whereMr. Brittles, being called in, involved himself and his respected superior insuch a wonderful maze of fresh contradictions and impossibilities, as tended tothrow no particular light on anything, but the fact of his own strongmystification; except, indeed, his declarations that he shouldn’t knowthe real boy, if he were put before him that instant; that he had only takenOliver to be he, because Mr. Giles had said he was; and that Mr. Giles had,five minutes previously, admitted in the kitchen, that he began to be very muchafraid he had been a little too hasty.

Among other ingenious surmises, the question was then raised, whether Mr. Gileshad really hit anybody; and upon examination of the fellow pistol to that whichhe had fired, it turned out to have no more destructive loading than gunpowderand brown paper: a discovery which made a considerable impression on everybodybut the doctor, who had drawn the ball about ten minutes before. Upon no one,however, did it make a greater impression than on Mr. Giles himself; who, afterlabouring, for some hours, under the fear of having mortally wounded afellow-creature, eagerly caught at this new idea, and favoured it to theutmost. Finally, the officers, without troubling themselves very much aboutOliver, left the Chertsey constable in the house, and took up their rest forthat night in the town; promising to return the next morning.

With the next morning, there came a rumour, that two men and a boy were in thecage at Kingston, who had been apprehended over night under suspiciouscircumstances; and to Kingston Messrs. Blathers and Duff journeyed accordingly.The suspicious circumstances, however, resolving themselves, on investigation,into the one fact, that they had been discovered sleeping under a haystack;which, although a great crime, is only punishable by imprisonment, and is, inthe merciful eye of the English law, and its comprehensive love of all theKing’s subjects, held to be no satisfactory proof, in the absence of allother evidence, that the sleeper, or sleepers, have committed burglaryaccompanied with violence, and have therefore rendered themselves liable to thepunishment of death; Messrs. Blathers and Duff came back again, as wise as theywent.

In short, after some more examination, and a great deal more conversation, aneighbouring magistrate was readily induced to take the joint bail of Mrs.Maylie and Mr. Losberne for Oliver’s appearance if he should ever becalled upon; and Blathers and Duff, being rewarded with a couple of guineas,returned to town with divided opinions on the subject of their expedition: thelatter gentleman on a mature consideration of all the circumstances, incliningto the belief that the burglarious attempt had originated with the Family Pet;and the former being equally disposed to concede the full merit of it to thegreat Mr. Conkey Chickweed.

Meanwhile, Oliver gradually throve and prospered under the united care of Mrs.Maylie, Rose, and the kind-hearted Mr. Losberne. If fervent prayers, gushingfrom hearts overcharged with gratitude, be heard in heaven—and if they benot, what prayers are!—the blessings which the orphan child called downupon them, sunk into their souls, diffusing peace and happiness.

Oliver’s ailings were neither slight nor few. In addition to the pain anddelay attendant on a broken limb, his exposure to the wet and cold had broughton fever and ague: which hung about him for many weeks, and reduced him sadly.But, at length, he began, by slow degrees, to get better, and to be able to saysometimes, in a few tearful words, how deeply he felt the goodness of the twosweet ladies, and how ardently he hoped that when he grew strong and wellagain, he could do something to show his gratitude; only something, which wouldlet them see the love and duty with which his breast was full; something,however slight, which would prove to them that their gentle kindness had notbeen cast away; but that the poor boy whom their charity had rescued frommisery, or death, was eager to serve them with his whole heart and soul.

“Poor fellow!” said Rose, when Oliver had been one day feeblyendeavouring to utter the words of thankfulness that rose to his pale lips;“you shall have many opportunities of serving us, if you will. We aregoing into the country, and my aunt intends that you shall accompany us. Thequiet place, the pure air, and all the pleasure and beauties of spring, willrestore you in a few days. We will employ you in a hundred ways, when you canbear the trouble.”

“The trouble!” cried Oliver. “Oh! dear lady, if I could butwork for you; if I could only give you pleasure by watering your flowers, orwatching your birds, or running up and down the whole day long, to make youhappy; what would I give to do it!”

“You shall give nothing at all,” said Miss Maylie, smiling;“for, as I told you before, we shall employ you in a hundred ways; and ifyou only take half the trouble to please us, that you promise now, you willmake me very happy indeed.”

“Happy, ma’am!” cried Oliver; “how kind of you to sayso!”

“You will make me happier than I can tell you,” replied the younglady. “To think that my dear good aunt should have been the means ofrescuing any one from such sad misery as you have described to us, would be anunspeakable pleasure to me; but to know that the object of her goodness andcompassion was sincerely grateful and attached, in consequence, would delightme, more than you can well imagine. Do you understand me?” she inquired,watching Oliver’s thoughtful face.

“Oh yes, ma’am, yes!” replied Oliver eagerly; “but Iwas thinking that I am ungrateful now.”

“To whom?” inquired the young lady.

“To the kind gentleman, and the dear old nurse, who took so much care ofme before,” rejoined Oliver. “If they knew how happy I am, theywould be pleased, I am sure.”

“I am sure they would,” rejoined Oliver’s benefactress;“and Mr. Losberne has already been kind enough to promise that when youare well enough to bear the journey, he will carry you to see them.”

“Has he, ma’am?” cried Oliver, his face brightening withpleasure. “I don’t know what I shall do for joy when I see theirkind faces once again!”

In a short time Oliver was sufficiently recovered to undergo the fatigue ofthis expedition. One morning he and Mr. Losberne set out, accordingly, in alittle carriage which belonged to Mrs. Maylie. When they came to ChertseyBridge, Oliver turned very pale, and uttered a loud exclamation.

“What’s the matter with the boy?” cried the doctor, as usual,all in a bustle. “Do you see anything—hear anything—feelanything—eh?”

“That, sir,” cried Oliver, pointing out of the carriage window.“That house!”

“Yes; well, what of it? Stop coachman. Pull up here,” cried thedoctor. “What of the house, my man; eh?”

“The thieves—the house they took me to!” whispered Oliver.

“The devil it is!” cried the doctor. “Hallo, there! let meout!”

But, before the coachman could dismount from his box, he had tumbled out of thecoach, by some means or other; and, running down to the deserted tenement,began kicking at the door like a madman.

“Halloa?” said a little ugly hump-backed man: opening the door sosuddenly, that the doctor, from the very impetus of his last kick, nearly fellforward into the passage. “What’s the matter here?”

“Matter!” exclaimed the other, collaring him, without amoment’s reflection. “A good deal. Robbery is the matter.”

“There’ll be Murder the matter, too,” replied the hump-backedman, coolly, “if you don’t take your hands off. Do you hearme?”

“I hear you,” said the doctor, giving his captive a hearty shake.

“Where’s—confound the fellow, what’s his rascallyname—Sikes; that’s it. Where’s Sikes, you thief?”

The hump-backed man stared, as if in excess of amazement and indignation; then,twisting himself, dexterously, from the doctor’s grasp, growled forth avolley of horrid oaths, and retired into the house. Before he could shut thedoor, however, the doctor had passed into the parlour, without a word ofparley.

He looked anxiously round; not an article of furniture; not a vestige ofanything, animate or inanimate; not even the position of the cupboards;answered Oliver’s description!

“Now!” said the hump-backed man, who had watched him keenly,“what do you mean by coming into my house, in this violent way? Do youwant to rob me, or to murder me? Which is it?”

“Did you ever know a man come out to do either, in a chariot and pair,you ridiculous old vampire?” said the irritable doctor.

“What do you want, then?” demanded the hunchback. “Will youtake yourself off, before I do you a mischief? Curse you!”

“As soon as I think proper,” said Mr. Losberne, looking into theother parlour; which, like the first, bore no resemblance whatever toOliver’s account of it. “I shall find you out, some day, myfriend.”

“Will you?” sneered the ill-favoured cripple. “If you everwant me, I’m here. I haven’t lived here mad and all alone, forfive-and-twenty years, to be scared by you. You shall pay for this; you shallpay for this.” And so saying, the mis-shapen little demon set up a yell,and danced upon the ground, as if wild with rage.

“Stupid enough, this,” muttered the doctor to himself; “theboy must have made a mistake. Here! Put that in your pocket, and shut yourselfup again.” With these words he flung the hunchback a piece of money, andreturned to the carriage.

The man followed to the chariot door, uttering the wildest imprecations andcurses all the way; but as Mr. Losberne turned to speak to the driver, helooked into the carriage, and eyed Oliver for an instant with a glance so sharpand fierce and at the same time so furious and vindictive, that, waking orsleeping, he could not forget it for months afterwards. He continued to utterthe most fearful imprecations, until the driver had resumed his seat; and whenthey were once more on their way, they could see him some distance behind:beating his feet upon the ground, and tearing his hair, in transports of realor pretended rage.

“I am an ass!” said the doctor, after a long silence. “Didyou know that before, Oliver?”

“No, sir.”

“Then don’t forget it another time.”

“An ass,” said the doctor again, after a further silence of someminutes. “Even if it had been the right place, and the right fellows hadbeen there, what could I have done, single-handed? And if I had had assistance,I see no good that I should have done, except leading to my own exposure, andan unavoidable statement of the manner in which I have hushed up this business.That would have served me right, though. I am always involving myself in somescrape or other, by acting on impulse. It might have done me good.”

Now, the fact was that the excellent doctor had never acted upon anything butimpulse all through his life, and it was no bad compliment to the nature of theimpulses which governed him, that so far from being involved in any peculiartroubles or misfortunes, he had the warmest respect and esteem of all who knewhim. If the truth must be told, he was a little out of temper, for a minute ortwo, at being disappointed in procuring corroborative evidence ofOliver’s story on the very first occasion on which he had a chance ofobtaining any. He soon came round again, however; and finding thatOliver’s replies to his questions, were still as straightforward andconsistent, and still delivered with as much apparent sincerity and truth, asthey had ever been, he made up his mind to attach full credence to them, fromthat time forth.

As Oliver knew the name of the street in which Mr. Brownlow resided, they wereenabled to drive straight thither. When the coach turned into it, his heartbeat so violently, that he could scarcely draw his breath.

“Now, my boy, which house is it?” inquired Mr. Losberne.

“That! That!” replied Oliver, pointing eagerly out of the window.“The white house. Oh! make haste! Pray make haste! I feel as if I shoulddie: it makes me tremble so.”

“Come, come!” said the good doctor, patting him on the shoulder.“You will see them directly, and they will be overjoyed to find you safeand well.”

“Oh! I hope so!” cried Oliver. “They were so good to me; sovery, very good to me.”

The coach rolled on. It stopped. No; that was the wrong house; the next door.It went on a few paces, and stopped again. Oliver looked up at the windows,with tears of happy expectation coursing down his face.

Alas! the white house was empty, and there was a bill in the window. “ToLet.”

“Knock at the next door,” cried Mr. Losberne, taking Oliver’sarm in his. “What has become of Mr. Brownlow, who used to live in theadjoining house, do you know?”

The servant did not know; but would go and inquire. She presently returned, andsaid, that Mr. Brownlow had sold off his goods, and gone to the West Indies,six weeks before. Oliver clasped his hands, and sank feebly backward.

“Has his housekeeper gone too?” inquired Mr. Losberne, after amoment’s pause.

“Yes, sir”; replied the servant. “The old gentleman, thehousekeeper, and a gentleman who was a friend of Mr. Brownlow’s, all wenttogether.”

“Then turn towards home again,” said Mr. Losberne to the driver;“and don’t stop to bait the horses, till you get out of thisconfounded London!”

“The book-stall keeper, sir?” said Oliver. “I know the waythere. See him, pray, sir! Do see him!”

“My poor boy, this is disappointment enough for one day,” said thedoctor. “Quite enough for both of us. If we go to the book-stallkeeper’s, we shall certainly find that he is dead, or has set his houseon fire, or run away. No; home again straight!” And in obedience to thedoctor’s impulse, home they went.

This bitter disappointment caused Oliver much sorrow and grief, even in themidst of his happiness; for he had pleased himself, many times during hisillness, with thinking of all that Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin would say tohim: and what delight it would be to tell them how many long days and nights hehad passed in reflecting on what they had done for him, and in bewailing hiscruel separation from them. The hope of eventually clearing himself with them,too, and explaining how he had been forced away, had buoyed him up, andsustained him, under many of his recent trials; and now, the idea that theyshould have gone so far, and carried with them the belief that he was animpostor and a robber—a belief which might remain uncontradicted to hisdying day—was almost more than he could bear.

The circumstance occasioned no alteration, however, in the behaviour of hisbenefactors. After another fortnight, when the fine warm weather had fairlybegun, and every tree and flower was putting forth its young leaves and richblossoms, they made preparations for quitting the house at Chertsey, for somemonths.

Sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin’s cupidity, to thebanker’s; and leaving Giles and another servant in care of the house,they departed to a cottage at some distance in the country, and took Oliverwith them.

Who can describe the pleasure and delight, the peace of mind and softtranquillity, the sickly boy felt in the balmy air, and among the green hillsand rich woods, of an inland village! Who can tell how scenes of peace andquietude sink into the minds of pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places,and carry their own freshness, deep into their jaded hearts! Men who have livedin crowded, pent-up streets, through lives of toil, and who have never wishedfor change; men, to whom custom has indeed been second nature, and who havecome almost to love each brick and stone that formed the narrow boundaries oftheir daily walks; even they, with the hand of death upon them, have been knownto yearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature’s face; and, carried farfrom the scenes of their old pains and pleasures, have seemed to pass at onceinto a new state of being. Crawling forth, from day to day, to some green sunnyspot, they have had such memories wakened up within them by the sight of thesky, and hill and plain, and glistening water, that a foretaste of heavenitself has soothed their quick decline, and they have sunk into their tombs, aspeacefully as the sun whose setting they watched from their lonely chamberwindow but a few hours before, faded from their dim and feeble sight! Thememories which peaceful country scenes call up, are not of this world, nor ofits thoughts and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how to weave freshgarlands for the graves of those we loved: may purify our thoughts, and beardown before it old enmity and hatred; but beneath all this, there lingers, inthe least reflective mind, a vague and half-formed consciousness of having heldsuch feelings long before, in some remote and distant time, which calls upsolemn thoughts of distant times to come, and bends down pride and worldlinessbeneath it.

It was a lovely spot to which they repaired. Oliver, whose days had been spentamong squalid crowds, and in the midst of noise and brawling, seemed to enteron a new existence there. The rose and honeysuckle clung to the cottage walls;the ivy crept round the trunks of the trees; and the garden-flowers perfumedthe air with delicious odours. Hard by, was a little churchyard; not crowdedwith tall unsightly gravestones, but full of humble mounds, covered with freshturf and moss: beneath which, the old people of the village lay at rest. Oliveroften wandered here; and, thinking of the wretched grave in which his motherlay, would sometimes sit him down and sob unseen; but, when he raised his eyesto the deep sky overhead, he would cease to think of her as lying in theground, and would weep for her, sadly, but without pain.

It was a happy time. The days were peaceful and serene; the nights brought withthem neither fear nor care; no languishing in a wretched prison, or associatingwith wretched men; nothing but pleasant and happy thoughts. Every morning hewent to a white-headed old gentleman, who lived near the little church: whotaught him to read better, and to write: and who spoke so kindly, and took suchpains, that Oliver could never try enough to please him. Then, he would walkwith Mrs. Maylie and Rose, and hear them talk of books; or perhaps sit nearthem, in some shady place, and listen whilst the young lady read: which hecould have done, until it grew too dark to see the letters. Then, he had hisown lesson for the next day to prepare; and at this, he would work hard, in alittle room which looked into the garden, till evening came slowly on, when theladies would walk out again, and he with them: listening with such pleasure toall they said: and so happy if they wanted a flower that he could climb toreach, or had forgotten anything he could run to fetch: that he could never bequick enough about it. When it became quite dark, and they returned home, theyoung lady would sit down to the piano, and play some pleasant air, or sing, ina low and gentle voice, some old song which it pleased her aunt to hear. Therewould be no candles lighted at such times as these; and Oliver would sit by oneof the windows, listening to the sweet music, in a perfect rapture.

And when Sunday came, how differently the day was spent, from any way in whichhe had ever spent it yet! and how happily too; like all the other days in thatmost happy time! There was the little church, in the morning, with the greenleaves fluttering at the windows: the birds singing without: and thesweet-smelling air stealing in at the low porch, and filling the homelybuilding with its fragrance. The poor people were so neat and clean, and kneltso reverently in prayer, that it seemed a pleasure, not a tedious duty, theirassembling there together; and though the singing might be rude, it was real,and sounded more musical (to Oliver’s ears at least) than any he had everheard in church before. Then, there were the walks as usual, and many calls atthe clean houses of the labouring men; and at night, Oliver read a chapter ortwo from the Bible, which he had been studying all the week, and in theperformance of which duty he felt more proud and pleased, than if he had beenthe clergyman himself.

In the morning, Oliver would be a-foot by six o’clock, roaming thefields, and plundering the hedges, far and wide, for nosegays of wild flowers,with which he would return laden, home; and which it took great care andconsideration to arrange, to the best advantage, for the embellishment of thebreakfast-table. There was fresh groundsel, too, for Miss Maylie’s birds,with which Oliver, who had been studying the subject under the able tuition ofthe village clerk, would decorate the cages, in the most approved taste. Whenthe birds were made all spruce and smart for the day, there was usually somelittle commission of charity to execute in the village; or, failing that, therewas rare cricket-playing, sometimes, on the green; or, failing that, there wasalways something to do in the garden, or about the plants, to which Oliver (whohad studied this science also, under the same master, who was a gardener bytrade,) applied himself with hearty good-will, until Miss Rose made herappearance: when there were a thousand commendations to be bestowed on all hehad done.

So three months glided away; three months which, in the life of the mostblessed and favoured of mortals, might have been unmingled happiness, andwhich, in Oliver’s were true felicity. With the purest and most amiablegenerosity on one side; and the truest, warmest, soul-felt gratitude on theother; it is no wonder that, by the end of that short time, Oliver Twist hadbecome completely domesticated with the old lady and her niece, and that thefervent attachment of his young and sensitive heart, was repaid by their pridein, and attachment to, himself.

Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came. If the village had been beautiful atfirst it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The greattrees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burstinto strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over thethirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was adeep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped insunshine, which lay stretched beyond. The earth had donned her mantle ofbrightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime andvigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.

Still, the same quiet life went on at the little cottage, and the same cheerfulserenity prevailed among its inmates. Oliver had long since grown stout andhealthy; but health or sickness made no difference in his warm feelings of agreat many people. He was still the same gentle, attached, affectionatecreature that he had been when pain and suffering had wasted his strength, andwhen he was dependent for every slight attention, and comfort on those whotended him.

One beautiful night, when they had taken a longer walk than was customary withthem: for the day had been unusually warm, and there was a brilliant moon, anda light wind had sprung up, which was unusually refreshing. Rose had been inhigh spirits, too, and they had walked on, in merry conversation, until theyhad far exceeded their ordinary bounds. Mrs. Maylie being fatigued, theyreturned more slowly home. The young lady merely throwing off her simplebonnet, sat down to the piano as usual. After running abstractedly over thekeys for a few minutes, she fell into a low and very solemn air; and as sheplayed it, they heard a sound as if she were weeping.

“Rose, my dear!” said the elder lady.

Rose made no reply, but played a little quicker, as though the words had rousedher from some painful thoughts.

“Rose, my love!” cried Mrs. Maylie, rising hastily, and bendingover her. “What is this? In tears! My dear child, what distressesyou?”

“Nothing, aunt; nothing,” replied the young lady. “Idon’t know what it is; I can’t describe it; but Ifeel—”

“Not ill, my love?” interposed Mrs. Maylie.

“No, no! Oh, not ill!” replied Rose: shuddering as though somedeadly chillness were passing over her, while she spoke; “I shall bebetter presently. Close the window, pray!”

Oliver hastened to comply with her request. The young lady, making an effort torecover her cheerfulness, strove to play some livelier tune; but her fingersdropped powerless over the keys. Covering her face with her hands, she sankupon a sofa, and gave vent to the tears which she was now unable to repress.

“My child!” said the elderly lady, folding her arms about her,“I never saw you so before.”

“I would not alarm you if I could avoid it,” rejoined Rose;“but indeed I have tried very hard, and cannot help this. I fear Iam ill, aunt.”

She was, indeed; for, when candles were brought, they saw that in the veryshort time which had elapsed since their return home, the hue of hercountenance had changed to a marble whiteness. Its expression had lost nothingof its beauty; but it was changed; and there was an anxious haggard look aboutthe gentle face, which it had never worn before. Another minute, and it wassuffused with a crimson flush: and a heavy wildness came over the soft blueeye. Again this disappeared, like the shadow thrown by a passing cloud; and shewas once more deadly pale.

Oliver, who watched the old lady anxiously, observed that she was alarmed bythese appearances; and so in truth, was he; but seeing that she affected tomake light of them, he endeavoured to do the same, and they so far succeeded,that when Rose was persuaded by her aunt to retire for the night, she was inbetter spirits; and appeared even in better health: assuring them that she feltcertain she should rise in the morning, quite well.

“I hope,” said Oliver, when Mrs. Maylie returned, “thatnothing is the matter? She don’t look well to-night, but—”

The old lady motioned to him not to speak; and sitting herself down in a darkcorner of the room, remained silent for some time. At length, she said, in atrembling voice:

“I hope not, Oliver. I have been very happy with her for some years: toohappy, perhaps. It may be time that I should meet with some misfortune; but Ihope it is not this.”

“What?” inquired Oliver.

“The heavy blow,” said the old lady, “of losing the dear girlwho has so long been my comfort and happiness.”

“Oh! God forbid!” exclaimed Oliver, hastily.

“Amen to that, my child!” said the old lady, wringing her hands.

“Surely there is no danger of anything so dreadful?” said Oliver.“Two hours ago, she was quite well.”

“She is very ill now,” rejoined Mrs. Maylies; “and will beworse, I am sure. My dear, dear Rose! Oh, what shall I do without her!”

She gave way to such great grief, that Oliver, suppressing his own emotion,ventured to remonstrate with her; and to beg, earnestly, that, for the sake ofthe dear young lady herself, she would be more calm.

“And consider, ma’am,” said Oliver, as the tears forcedthemselves into his eyes, despite of his efforts to the contrary. “Oh!consider how young and good she is, and what pleasure and comfort she gives toall about her. I am sure—certain—quite certain—that, for yoursake, who are so good yourself; and for her own; and for the sake of all shemakes so happy; she will not die. Heaven will never let her die soyoung.”

“Hush!” said Mrs. Maylie, laying her hand on Oliver’s head.“You think like a child, poor boy. But you teach me my duty,notwithstanding. I had forgotten it for a moment, Oliver, but I hope I may bepardoned, for I am old, and have seen enough of illness and death to know theagony of separation from the objects of our love. I have seen enough, too, toknow that it is not always the youngest and best who are spared to those thatlove them; but this should give us comfort in our sorrow; for Heaven is just;and such things teach us, impressively, that there is a brighter world thanthis; and that the passage to it is speedy. God’s will be done! I loveher; and He knows how well!”

Oliver was surprised to see that as Mrs. Maylie said these words, she checkedher lamentations as though by one effort; and drawing herself up as she spoke,became composed and firm. He was still more astonished to find that thisfirmness lasted; and that, under all the care and watching which ensued, Mrs.Maylie was ever ready and collected: performing all the duties which haddevolved upon her, steadily, and, to all external appearances, even cheerfully.But he was young, and did not know what strong minds are capable of, undertrying circumstances. How should he, when their possessors so seldom knowthemselves?

An anxious night ensued. When morning came, Mrs. Maylie’s predictionswere but too well verified. Rose was in the first stage of a high and dangerousfever.

“We must be active, Oliver, and not give way to useless grief,”said Mrs. Maylie, laying her finger on her lip, as she looked steadily into hisface; “this letter must be sent, with all possible expedition, to Mr.Losberne. It must be carried to the market-town: which is not more than fourmiles off, by the footpath across the field: and thence dispatched, by anexpress on horseback, straight to Chertsey. The people at the inn willundertake to do this: and I can trust to you to see it done, I know.”

Oliver could make no reply, but looked his anxiety to be gone at once.

“Here is another letter,” said Mrs. Maylie, pausing to reflect;“but whether to send it now, or wait until I see how Rose goes on, Iscarcely know. I would not forward it, unless I feared the worst.”

“Is it for Chertsey, too, ma’am?” inquired Oliver; impatientto execute his commission, and holding out his trembling hand for the letter.

“No,” replied the old lady, giving it to him mechanically. Oliverglanced at it, and saw that it was directed to Harry Maylie, Esquire, at somegreat lord’s house in the country; where, he could not make out.

“Shall it go, ma’am?” asked Oliver, looking up, impatiently.

“I think not,” replied Mrs. Maylie, taking it back. “I willwait until to-morrow.”

With these words, she gave Oliver her purse, and he started off, without moredelay, at the greatest speed he could muster.

Swiftly he ran across the fields, and down the little lanes which sometimesdivided them: now almost hidden by the high corn on either side, and nowemerging on an open field, where the mowers and haymakers were busy at theirwork: nor did he stop once, save now and then, for a few seconds, to recoverbreath, until he came, in a great heat, and covered with dust, on the littlemarket-place of the market-town.

Here he paused, and looked about for the inn. There were a white bank, and ared brewery, and a yellow town-hall; and in one corner there was a large house,with all the wood about it painted green: before which was the sign of“The George.” To this he hastened, as soon as it caught his eye.

He spoke to a postboy who was dozing under the gateway; and who, after hearingwhat he wanted, referred him to the ostler; who after hearing all he had to sayagain, referred him to the landlord; who was a tall gentleman in a blueneckcloth, a white hat, drab breeches, and boots with tops to match, leaningagainst a pump by the stable-door, picking his teeth with a silver toothpick.

This gentleman walked with much deliberation into the bar to make out the bill:which took a long time making out: and after it was ready, and paid, a horsehad to be saddled, and a man to be dressed, which took up ten good minutesmore. Meanwhile Oliver was in such a desperate state of impatience and anxiety,that he felt as if he could have jumped upon the horse himself, and gallopedaway, full tear, to the next stage. At length, all was ready; and the littleparcel having been handed up, with many injunctions and entreaties for itsspeedy delivery, the man set spurs to his horse, and rattling over the unevenpaving of the market-place, was out of the town, and galloping along theturnpike-road, in a couple of minutes.

As it was something to feel certain that assistance was sent for, and that notime had been lost, Oliver hurried up the inn-yard, with a somewhat lighterheart. He was turning out of the gateway when he accidently stumbled against atall man wrapped in a cloak, who was at that moment coming out of the inn door.

“Hah!” cried the man, fixing his eyes on Oliver, and suddenlyrecoiling. “What the devil’s this?”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Oliver; “I was in a greathurry to get home, and didn’t see you were coming.”

“Death!” muttered the man to himself, glaring at the boy with hislarge dark eyes. “Who would have thought it! Grind him to ashes!He’d start up from a stone coffin, to come in my way!”

“I am sorry,” stammered Oliver, confused by the strange man’swild look. “I hope I have not hurt you!”

“Rot you!” murmured the man, in a horrible passion; between hisclenched teeth; “if I had only had the courage to say the word, I mighthave been free of you in a night. Curses on your head, and black death on yourheart, you imp! What are you doing here?”

The man shook his fist, as he uttered these words incoherently. He advancedtowards Oliver, as if with the intention of aiming a blow at him, but fellviolently on the ground: writhing and foaming, in a fit.

Oliver gazed, for a moment, at the struggles of the madman (for such hesupposed him to be); and then darted into the house for help. Having seen himsafely carried into the hotel, he turned his face homewards, running as fast ashe could, to make up for lost time: and recalling with a great deal ofastonishment and some fear, the extraordinary behaviour of the person from whomhe had just parted.

The circumstance did not dwell in his recollection long, however: for when hereached the cottage, there was enough to occupy his mind, and to drive allconsiderations of self completely from his memory.

Rose Maylie had rapidly grown worse; before mid-night she was delirious. Amedical practitioner, who resided on the spot, was in constant attendance uponher; and after first seeing the patient, he had taken Mrs. Maylie aside, andpronounced her disorder to be one of a most alarming nature. “Infact,” he said, “it would be little short of a miracle, if sherecovered.”

How often did Oliver start from his bed that night, and stealing out, withnoiseless footstep, to the staircase, listen for the slightest sound from thesick chamber! How often did a tremble shake his frame, and cold drops of terrorstart upon his brow, when a sudden trampling of feet caused him to fear thatsomething too dreadful to think of, had even then occurred! And what had beenthe fervency of all the prayers he had ever muttered, compared with those hepoured forth, now, in the agony and passion of his supplication for the lifeand health of the gentle creature, who was tottering on the deep grave’sverge!

Oh! the suspense, the fearful, acute suspense, of standing idly by while thelife of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance! Oh! the rackingthoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and thebreath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it; thedesperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessenthe danger, which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul andspirit, which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces; what torturescan equal these; what reflections or endeavours can, in the full tide and feverof the time, allay them!

Morning came; and the little cottage was lonely and still. People spoke inwhispers; anxious faces appeared at the gate, from time to time; women andchildren went away in tears. All the livelong day, and for hours after it hadgrown dark, Oliver paced softly up and down the garden, raising his eyes everyinstant to the sick chamber, and shuddering to see the darkened window, lookingas if death lay stretched inside. Late that night, Mr. Losberne arrived.“It is hard,” said the good doctor, turning away as he spoke;“so young; so much beloved; but there is very little hope.”

Another morning. The sun shone brightly; as brightly as if it looked upon nomisery or care; and, with every leaf and flower in full bloom about her; withlife, and health, and sounds and sights of joy, surrounding her on every side:the fair young creature lay, wasting fast. Oliver crept away to the oldchurchyard, and sitting down on one of the green mounds, wept and prayed forher, in silence.

There was such peace and beauty in the scene; so much of brightness and mirthin the sunny landscape; such blithesome music in the songs of the summer birds;such freedom in the rapid flight of the rook, careering overhead; so much oflife and joyousness in all; that, when the boy raised his aching eyes, andlooked about, the thought instinctively occurred to him, that this was not atime for death; that Rose could surely never die when humbler things were allso glad and gay; that graves were for cold and cheerless winter: not forsunlight and fragrance. He almost thought that shrouds were for the old andshrunken; and that they never wrapped the young and graceful form in theirghastly folds.

A knell from the church bell broke harshly on these youthful thoughts. Another!Again! It was tolling for the funeral service. A group of humble mournersentered the gate: wearing white favours; for the corpse was young. They stooduncovered by a grave; and there was a mother—a mother once—amongthe weeping train. But the sun shone brightly, and the birds sang on.

Oliver turned homeward, thinking on the many kindnesses he had received fromthe young lady, and wishing that the time could come again, that he might nevercease showing her how grateful and attached he was. He had no cause forself-reproach on the score of neglect, or want of thought, for he had beendevoted to her service; and yet a hundred little occasions rose up before him,on which he fancied he might have been more zealous, and more earnest, andwished he had been. We need be careful how we deal with those about us, whenevery death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so muchomitted, and so little done—of so many things forgotten, and so many morewhich might have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep as that which isunavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

When he reached home Mrs. Maylie was sitting in the little parlour.Oliver’s heart sank at sight of her; for she had never left the bedsideof her niece; and he trembled to think what change could have driven her away.He learnt that she had fallen into a deep sleep, from which she would waken,either to recovery and life, or to bid them farewell, and die.

They sat, listening, and afraid to speak, for hours. The untasted meal wasremoved, with looks which showed that their thoughts were elsewhere, theywatched the sun as he sank lower and lower, and, at length, cast over sky andearth those brilliant hues which herald his departure. Their quick ears caughtthe sound of an approaching footstep. They both involuntarily darted to thedoor, as Mr. Losberne entered.

“What of Rose?” cried the old lady. “Tell me at once! I canbear it; anything but suspense! Oh, tell me! in the name of Heaven!”

“You must compose yourself,” said the doctor supporting her.“Be calm, my dear ma’am, pray.”

“Let me go, in God’s name! My dear child! She is dead! She isdying!”

“No!” cried the doctor, passionately. “As He is good andmerciful, she will live to bless us all, for years to come.”

The lady fell upon her knees, and tried to fold her hands together; but theenergy which had supported her so long, fled up to Heaven with her firstthanksgiving; and she sank into the friendly arms which were extended toreceive her.

It was almost too much happiness to bear. Oliver felt stunned and stupefied bythe unexpected intelligence; he could not weep, or speak, or rest. He hadscarcely the power of understanding anything that had passed, until, after along ramble in the quiet evening air, a burst of tears came to his relief, andhe seemed to awaken, all at once, to a full sense of the joyful change that hadoccurred, and the almost insupportable load of anguish which had been takenfrom his breast.

The night was fast closing in, when he returned homeward: laden with flowerswhich he had culled, with peculiar care, for the adornment of the sick chamber.As he walked briskly along the road, he heard behind him, the noise of somevehicle, approaching at a furious pace. Looking round, he saw that it was apost-chaise, driven at great speed; and as the horses were galloping, and theroad was narrow, he stood leaning against a gate until it should have passedhim.

As it dashed on, Oliver caught a glimpse of a man in a white nightcap, whoseface seemed familiar to him, although his view was so brief that he could notidentify the person. In another second or two, the nightcap was thrust out ofthe chaise-window, and a stentorian voice bellowed to the driver to stop: whichhe did, as soon as he could pull up his horses. Then, the nightcap once againappeared: and the same voice called Oliver by his name.

“Here!” cried the voice. “Oliver, what’s the news? MissRose! Master O-li-ver!”

“Is it you, Giles?” cried Oliver, running up to the chaise-door.

Giles popped out his nightcap again, preparatory to making some reply, when hewas suddenly pulled back by a young gentleman who occupied the other corner ofthe chaise, and who eagerly demanded what was the news.

“In a word!” cried the gentleman, “Better or worse?”

“Better—much better!” replied Oliver, hastily.

“Thank Heaven!” exclaimed the gentleman. “You aresure?”

“Quite, sir,” replied Oliver. “The change took place only afew hours ago; and Mr. Losberne says, that all danger is at an end.”

The gentleman said not another word, but, opening the chaise-door, leaped out,and taking Oliver hurriedly by the arm, led him aside.

“You are quite certain? There is no possibility of any mistake on yourpart, my boy, is there?” demanded the gentleman in a tremulous voice.“Do not deceive me, by awakening hopes that are not to befulfilled.”

“I would not for the world, sir,” replied Oliver. “Indeed youmay believe me. Mr. Losberne’s words were, that she would live to blessus all for many years to come. I heard him say so.”

The tears stood in Oliver’s eyes as he recalled the scene which was thebeginning of so much happiness; and the gentleman turned his face away, andremained silent, for some minutes. Oliver thought he heard him sob, more thanonce; but he feared to interrupt him by any fresh remark—for he couldwell guess what his feelings were—and so stood apart, feigning to beoccupied with his nosegay.

All this time, Mr. Giles, with the white nightcap on, had been sitting on thesteps of the chaise, supporting an elbow on each knee, and wiping his eyes witha blue cotton pocket-handkerchief dotted with white spots. That the honestfellow had not been feigning emotion, was abundantly demonstrated by the veryred eyes with which he regarded the young gentleman, when he turned round andaddressed him.

“I think you had better go on to my mother’s in the chaise,Giles,” said he. “I would rather walk slowly on, so as to gain alittle time before I see her. You can say I am coming.”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Harry,” said Giles: giving a final polishto his ruffled countenance with the handkerchief; “but if you would leavethe postboy to say that, I should be very much obliged to you. Itwouldn’t be proper for the maids to see me in this state, sir; I shouldnever have any more authority with them if they did.”

“Well,” rejoined Harry Maylie, smiling, “you can do as youlike. Let him go on with the luggage, if you wish it, and do you follow withus. Only first exchange that nightcap for some more appropriate covering, or weshall be taken for madmen.”

Mr. Giles, reminded of his unbecoming costume, snatched off and pocketed hisnightcap; and substituted a hat, of grave and sober shape, which he took out ofthe chaise. This done, the postboy drove off; Giles, Mr. Maylie, and Oliver,followed at their leisure.

As they walked along, Oliver glanced from time to time with much interest andcuriosity at the new comer. He seemed about five-and-twenty years of age, andwas of the middle height; his countenance was frank and handsome; and hisdemeanor easy and prepossessing. Notwithstanding the difference between youthand age, he bore so strong a likeness to the old lady, that Oliver would havehad no great difficulty in imagining their relationship, if he had not alreadyspoken of her as his mother.

Mrs. Maylie was anxiously waiting to receive her son when he reached thecottage. The meeting did not take place without great emotion on both sides.

“Mother!” whispered the young man; “why did you not writebefore?”

“I did,” replied Mrs. Maylie; “but, on reflection, Idetermined to keep back the letter until I had heard Mr. Losberne’sopinion.”

“But why,” said the young man, “why run the chance of thatoccurring which so nearly happened? If Rose had—I cannot utter that wordnow—if this illness had terminated differently, how could you ever haveforgiven yourself! How could I ever have know happiness again!”

“If that had been the case, Harry,” said Mrs. Maylie,“I fear your happiness would have been effectually blighted, and thatyour arrival here, a day sooner or a day later, would have been of very, verylittle import.”

“And who can wonder if it be so, mother?” rejoined the young man;“or why should I say, if?—It is—it is—you knowit, mother—you must know it!”

“I know that she deserves the best and purest love the heart of man canoffer,” said Mrs. Maylie; “I know that the devotion and affectionof her nature require no ordinary return, but one that shall be deep andlasting. If I did not feel this, and know, besides, that a changed behaviour inone she loved would break her heart, I should not feel my task so difficult ofperformance, or have to encounter so many struggles in my own bosom, when Itake what seems to me to be the strict line of duty.”

“This is unkind, mother,” said Harry. “Do you still supposethat I am a boy ignorant of my own mind, and mistaking the impulses of my ownsoul?”

“I think, my dear son,” returned Mrs. Maylie, laying her hand uponhis shoulder, “that youth has many generous impulses which do not last;and that among them are some, which, being gratified, become only the morefleeting. Above all, I think” said the lady, fixing her eyes on herson’s face, “that if an enthusiastic, ardent, and ambitious manmarry a wife on whose name there is a stain, which, though it originate in nofault of hers, may be visited by cold and sordid people upon her, and upon hischildren also: and, in exact proportion to his success in the world, be cast inhis teeth, and made the subject of sneers against him: he may, no matter howgenerous and good his nature, one day repent of the connection he formed inearly life. And she may have the pain of knowing that he does so.”

“Mother,” said the young man, impatiently, “he would be aselfish brute, unworthy alike of the name of man and of the woman you describe,who acted thus.”

“You think so now, Harry,” replied his mother.

“And ever will!” said the young man. “The mental agony I havesuffered, during the last two days, wrings from me the avowal to you of apassion which, as you well know, is not one of yesterday, nor one I havelightly formed. On Rose, sweet, gentle girl! my heart is set, as firmly as everheart of man was set on woman. I have no thought, no view, no hope in life,beyond her; and if you oppose me in this great stake, you take my peace andhappiness in your hands, and cast them to the wind. Mother, think better ofthis, and of me, and do not disregard the happiness of which you seem to thinkso little.”

“Harry,” said Mrs. Maylie, “it is because I think so much ofwarm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded. But wehave said enough, and more than enough, on this matter, just now.”

“Let it rest with Rose, then,” interposed Harry. “You willnot press these overstrained opinions of yours, so far, as to throw anyobstacle in my way?”

“I will not,” rejoined Mrs. Maylie; “but I would have youconsider—”

“I have considered!” was the impatient reply; “Mother,I have considered, years and years. I have considered, ever since I have beencapable of serious reflection. My feelings remain unchanged, as they ever will;and why should I suffer the pain of a delay in giving them vent, which can beproductive of no earthly good? No! Before I leave this place, Rose shall hearme.”

“She shall,” said Mrs. Maylie.

“There is something in your manner, which would almost imply that shewill hear me coldly, mother,” said the young man.

“Not coldly,” rejoined the old lady; “far from it.”

“How then?” urged the young man. “She has formed no otherattachment?”

“No, indeed,” replied his mother; “you have, or I mistake,too strong a hold on her affections already. What I would say,” resumedthe old lady, stopping her son as he was about to speak, “is this. Beforeyou stake your all on this chance; before you suffer yourself to be carried tothe highest point of hope; reflect for a few moments, my dear child, onRose’s history, and consider what effect the knowledge of her doubtfulbirth may have on her decision: devoted as she is to us, with all the intensityof her noble mind, and with that perfect sacrifice of self which, in allmatters, great or trifling, has always been her characteristic.”

“What do you mean?”

“That I leave you to discover,” replied Mrs. Maylie. “I mustgo back to her. God bless you!”

“I shall see you again to-night?” said the young man, eagerly.

“By and by,” replied the lady; “when I leave Rose.”

“You will tell her I am here?” said Harry.

“Of course,” replied Mrs. Maylie.

“And say how anxious I have been, and how much I have suffered, and how Ilong to see her. You will not refuse to do this, mother?”

“No,” said the old lady; “I will tell her all.” Andpressing her son’s hand, affectionately, she hastened from the room.

Mr. Losberne and Oliver had remained at another end of the apartment while thishurried conversation was proceeding. The former now held out his hand to HarryMaylie; and hearty salutations were exchanged between them. The doctor thencommunicated, in reply to multifarious questions from his young friend, aprecise account of his patient’s situation; which was quite asconsolatory and full of promise, as Oliver’s statement had encouraged himto hope; and to the whole of which, Mr. Giles, who affected to be busy aboutthe luggage, listened with greedy ears.

“Have you shot anything particular, lately, Giles?” inquired thedoctor, when he had concluded.

“Nothing particular, sir,” replied Mr. Giles, colouring up to theeyes.

“Nor catching any thieves, nor identifying any house-breakers?”said the doctor.

“None at all, sir,” replied Mr. Giles, with much gravity.

“Well,” said the doctor, “I am sorry to hear it, because youdo that sort of thing admirably. Pray, how is Brittles?”

“The boy is very well, sir,” said Mr. Giles, recovering his usualtone of patronage; “and sends his respectful duty, sir.”

“That’s well,” said the doctor. “Seeing you here,reminds me, Mr. Giles, that on the day before that on which I was called awayso hurriedly, I executed, at the request of your good mistress, a smallcommission in your favour. Just step into this corner a moment, willyou?”

Mr. Giles walked into the corner with much importance, and some wonder, and washonoured with a short whispering conference with the doctor, on the terminationof which, he made a great many bows, and retired with steps of unusualstateliness. The subject matter of this conference was not disclosed in theparlour, but the kitchen was speedily enlightened concerning it; for Mr. Gileswalked straight thither, and having called for a mug of ale, announced, with anair of majesty, which was highly effective, that it had pleased his mistress,in consideration of his gallant behaviour on the occasion of that attemptedrobbery, to deposit, in the local savings-bank, the sum of five-and-twentypounds, for his sole use and benefit. At this, the two women-servants lifted uptheir hands and eyes, and supposed that Mr. Giles, pulling out his shirt-frill,replied, “No, no”; and that if they observed that he was at allhaughty to his inferiors, he would thank them to tell him so. And then he madea great many other remarks, no less illustrative of his humility, which werereceived with equal favour and applause, and were, withal, as original and asmuch to the purpose, as the remarks of great men commonly are.

Above stairs, the remainder of the evening passed cheerfully away; for thedoctor was in high spirits; and however fatigued or thoughtful Harry Mayliemight have been at first, he was not proof against the worthy gentleman’sgood humour, which displayed itself in a great variety of sallies andprofessional recollections, and an abundance of small jokes, which struckOliver as being the drollest things he had ever heard, and caused him to laughproportionately; to the evident satisfaction of the doctor, who laughedimmoderately at himself, and made Harry laugh almost as heartily, by the veryforce of sympathy. So, they were as pleasant a party as, under thecircumstances, they could well have been; and it was late before they retired,with light and thankful hearts, to take that rest of which, after the doubt andsuspense they had recently undergone, they stood much in need.

Oliver rose next morning, in better heart, and went about his usualoccupations, with more hope and pleasure than he had known for many days. Thebirds were once more hung out, to sing, in their old places; and the sweetestwild flowers that could be found, were once more gathered to gladden Rose withtheir beauty. The melancholy which had seemed to the sad eyes of the anxiousboy to hang, for days past, over every object, beautiful as all were, wasdispelled by magic. The dew seemed to sparkle more brightly on the greenleaves; the air to rustle among them with a sweeter music; and the sky itselfto look more blue and bright. Such is the influence which the condition of ourown thoughts, exercise, even over the appearance of external objects. Men wholook on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, arein the right; but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundicedeyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.

It is worthy of remark, and Oliver did not fail to note it at the time, thathis morning expeditions were no longer made alone. Harry Maylie, after the veryfirst morning when he met Oliver coming laden home, was seized with such apassion for flowers, and displayed such a taste in their arrangement, as lefthis young companion far behind. If Oliver were behindhand in these respects, heknew where the best were to be found; and morning after morning they scouredthe country together, and brought home the fairest that blossomed. The windowof the young lady’s chamber was opened now; for she loved to feel therich summer air stream in, and revive her with its freshness; but there alwaysstood in water, just inside the lattice, one particular little bunch, which wasmade up with great care, every morning. Oliver could not help noticing that thewithered flowers were never thrown away, although the little vase was regularlyreplenished; nor, could he help observing, that whenever the doctor came intothe garden, he invariably cast his eyes up to that particular corner, andnodded his head most expressively, as he set forth on his morning’s walk.Pending these observations, the days were flying by; and Rose was rapidlyrecovering.

Nor did Oliver’s time hang heavy on his hands, although the young ladyhad not yet left her chamber, and there were no evening walks, save now andthen, for a short distance, with Mrs. Maylie. He applied himself, withredoubled assiduity, to the instructions of the white-headed old gentleman, andlaboured so hard that his quick progress surprised even himself. It was whilehe was engaged in this pursuit, that he was greatly startled and distressed bya most unexpected occurrence.

The little room in which he was accustomed to sit, when busy at his books, wason the ground-floor, at the back of the house. It was quite a cottage-room,with a lattice-window: around which were clusters of jessamine and honeysuckle,that crept over the casement, and filled the place with their deliciousperfume. It looked into a garden, whence a wicket-gate opened into a smallpaddock; all beyond, was fine meadow-land and wood. There was no other dwellingnear, in that direction; and the prospect it commanded was very extensive.

One beautiful evening, when the first shades of twilight were beginning tosettle upon the earth, Oliver sat at this window, intent upon his books. He hadbeen poring over them for some time; and, as the day had been uncommonlysultry, and he had exerted himself a great deal, it is no disparagement to theauthors, whoever they may have been, to say, that gradually and by slowdegrees, he fell asleep.

There is a kind of sleep that steals upon us sometimes, which, while it holdsthe body prisoner, does not free the mind from a sense of things about it, andenable it to ramble at its pleasure. So far as an overpowering heaviness, aprostration of strength, and an utter inability to control our thoughts orpower of motion, can be called sleep, this is it; and yet, we have aconsciousness of all that is going on about us, and, if we dream at such atime, words which are really spoken, or sounds which really exist at themoment, accommodate themselves with surprising readiness to our visions, untilreality and imagination become so strangely blended that it is afterwardsalmost matter of impossibility to separate the two. Nor is this, the moststriking phenomenon incidental to such a state. It is an undoubted fact, thatalthough our senses of touch and sight be for the time dead, yet our sleepingthoughts, and the visionary scenes that pass before us, will be influenced andmaterially influenced, by the mere silent presence of some externalobject; which may not have been near us when we closed our eyes: and of whosevicinity we have had no waking consciousness.

Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room; that his bookswere lying on the table before him; that the sweet air was stirring among thecreeping plants outside. And yet he was asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed;the air became close and confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, thathe was in the Jew’s house again. There sat the hideous old man, in hisaccustomed corner, pointing at him, and whispering to another man, with hisface averted, who sat beside him.

“Hush, my dear!” he thought he heard the Jew say; “it is he,sure enough. Come away.”

“He!” the other man seemed to answer; “could I mistake him,think you? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exact shape,and he stood amongst them, there is something that would tell me how to pointhim out. If you buried him fifty feet deep, and took me across his grave, Ifancy I should know, if there wasn’t a mark above it, that he lay buriedthere?”

The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, that Oliver awoke withthe fear, and started up.

Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to his heart, anddeprived him of his voice, and of power to move! There—there—at thewindow—close before him—so close, that he could have almost touchedhim before he started back: with his eyes peering into the room, and meetinghis: there stood the Jew! And beside him, white with rage or fear, or both,were the scowling features of the man who had accosted him in the inn-yard.

It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and they were gone.But they had recognised him, and he them; and their look was as firmlyimpressed upon his memory, as if it had been deeply carved in stone, and setbefore him from his birth. He stood transfixed for a moment; then, leaping fromthe window into the garden, called loudly for help.

When the inmates of the house, attracted by Oliver’s cries, hurried tothe spot from which they proceeded, they found him, pale and agitated, pointingin the direction of the meadows behind the house, and scarcely able toarticulate the words, “The Jew! the Jew!”

Mr. Giles was at a loss to comprehend what this outcry meant; but Harry Maylie,whose perceptions were something quicker, and who had heard Oliver’shistory from his mother, understood it at once.

“What direction did he take?” he asked, catching up a heavy stickwhich was standing in a corner.

“That,” replied Oliver, pointing out the course the man had taken;“I missed them in an instant.”

“Then, they are in the ditch!” said Harry. “Follow! And keepas near me, as you can.” So saying, he sprang over the hedge, and dartedoff with a speed which rendered it matter of exceeding difficulty for theothers to keep near him.

Giles followed as well as he could; and Oliver followed too; and in the courseof a minute or two, Mr. Losberne, who had been out walking, and just thenreturned, tumbled over the hedge after them, and picking himself up with moreagility than he could have been supposed to possess, struck into the samecourse at no contemptible speed, shouting all the while, most prodigiously, toknow what was the matter.

On they all went; nor stopped they once to breathe, until the leader, strikingoff into an angle of the field indicated by Oliver, began to search, narrowly,the ditch and hedge adjoining; which afforded time for the remainder of theparty to come up; and for Oliver to communicate to Mr. Losberne thecircumstances that had led to so vigorous a pursuit.

The search was all in vain. There were not even the traces of recent footsteps,to be seen. They stood now, on the summit of a little hill, commanding the openfields in every direction for three or four miles. There was the village in thehollow on the left; but, in order to gain that, after pursuing the track Oliverhad pointed out, the men must have made a circuit of open ground, which it wasimpossible they could have accomplished in so short a time. A thick woodskirted the meadow-land in another direction; but they could not have gainedthat covert for the same reason.

“It must have been a dream, Oliver,” said Harry Maylie.

“Oh no, indeed, sir,” replied Oliver, shuddering at the veryrecollection of the old wretch’s countenance; “I saw him tooplainly for that. I saw them both, as plainly as I see you now.”

“Who was the other?” inquired Harry and Mr. Losberne, together.

“The very same man I told you of, who came so suddenly upon me at theinn,” said Oliver. “We had our eyes fixed full upon each other; andI could swear to him.”

“They took this way?” demanded Harry: “are you sure?”

“As I am that the men were at the window,” replied Oliver, pointingdown, as he spoke, to the hedge which divided the cottage-garden from themeadow. “The tall man leaped over, just there; and the Jew, running a fewpaces to the right, crept through that gap.”

The two gentlemen watched Oliver’s earnest face, as he spoke, and lookingfrom him to each other, seemed to feel satisfied of the accuracy of what hesaid. Still, in no direction were there any appearances of the trampling of menin hurried flight. The grass was long; but it was trodden down nowhere, savewhere their own feet had crushed it. The sides and brinks of the ditches wereof damp clay; but in no one place could they discern the print of men’sshoes, or the slightest mark which would indicate that any feet had pressed theground for hours before.

“This is strange!” said Harry.

“Strange?” echoed the doctor. “Blathers and Duff, themselves,could make nothing of it.”

Notwithstanding the evidently useless nature of their search, they did notdesist until the coming on of night rendered its further prosecution hopeless;and even then, they gave it up with reluctance. Giles was dispatched to thedifferent ale-houses in the village, furnished with the best description Olivercould give of the appearance and dress of the strangers. Of these, the Jew was,at all events, sufficiently remarkable to be remembered, supposing he had beenseen drinking, or loitering about; but Giles returned without any intelligence,calculated to dispel or lessen the mystery.

On the next day, fresh search was made, and the inquiries renewed; but with nobetter success. On the day following, Oliver and Mr. Maylie repaired to themarket-town, in the hope of seeing or hearing something of the men there; butthis effort was equally fruitless. After a few days, the affair began to beforgotten, as most affairs are, when wonder, having no fresh food to supportit, dies away of itself.

Meanwhile, Rose was rapidly recovering. She had left her room: was able to goout; and mixing once more with the family, carried joy into the hearts of all.

But, although this happy change had a visible effect on the little circle; andalthough cheerful voices and merry laughter were once more heard in thecottage; there was at times, an unwonted restraint upon some there: even uponRose herself: which Oliver could not fail to remark. Mrs. Maylie and her sonwere often closeted together for a long time; and more than once Rose appearedwith traces of tears upon her face. After Mr. Losberne had fixed a day for hisdeparture to Chertsey, these symptoms increased; and it became evident thatsomething was in progress which affected the peace of the young lady, and ofsomebody else besides.

At length, one morning, when Rose was alone in the breakfast-parlour, HarryMaylie entered; and, with some hesitation, begged permission to speak with herfor a few moments.

“A few—a very few—will suffice, Rose,” said the youngman, drawing his chair towards her. “What I shall have to say, hasalready presented itself to your mind; the most cherished hopes of my heart arenot unknown to you, though from my lips you have not heard them stated.”

Rose had been very pale from the moment of his entrance; but that might havebeen the effect of her recent illness. She merely bowed; and bending over someplants that stood near, waited in silence for him to proceed.

“I—I—ought to have left here, before,” said Harry.

“You should, indeed,” replied Rose. “Forgive me for sayingso, but I wish you had.”

“I was brought here, by the most dreadful and agonising of allapprehensions,” said the young man; “the fear of losing the onedear being on whom my every wish and hope are fixed. You had been dying;trembling between earth and heaven. We know that when the young, the beautiful,and good, are visited with sickness, their pure spirits insensibly turn towardstheir bright home of lasting rest; we know, Heaven help us! that the best andfairest of our kind, too often fade in blooming.”

There were tears in the eyes of the gentle girl, as these words were spoken;and when one fell upon the flower over which she bent, and glistened brightlyin its cup, making it more beautiful, it seemed as though the outpouring of herfresh young heart, claimed kindred naturally, with the loveliest things innature.

“A creature,” continued the young man, passionately, “acreature as fair and innocent of guile as one of God’s own angels,fluttered between life and death. Oh! who could hope, when the distant world towhich she was akin, half opened to her view, that she would return to thesorrow and calamity of this! Rose, Rose, to know that you were passing awaylike some soft shadow, which a light from above, casts upon the earth; to haveno hope that you would be spared to those who linger here; hardly to know areason why you should be; to feel that you belonged to that bright spherewhither so many of the fairest and the best have winged their early flight; andyet to pray, amid all these consolations, that you might be restored to thosewho loved you—these were distractions almost too great to bear. They weremine, by day and night; and with them, came such a rushing torrent of fears,and apprehensions, and selfish regrets, lest you should die, and never know howdevotedly I loved you, as almost bore down sense and reason in its course. Yourecovered. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, some drop of health came back,and mingling with the spent and feeble stream of life which circulatedlanguidly within you, swelled it again to a high and rushing tide. I havewatched you change almost from death, to life, with eyes that turned blind withtheir eagerness and deep affection. Do not tell me that you wish I had lostthis; for it has softened my heart to all mankind.”

“I did not mean that,” said Rose, weeping; “I only wish youhad left here, that you might have turned to high and noble pursuits again; topursuits well worthy of you.”

“There is no pursuit more worthy of me: more worthy of the highest naturethat exists: than the struggle to win such a heart as yours,” said theyoung man, taking her hand. “Rose, my own dear Rose! For years—foryears—I have loved you; hoping to win my way to fame, and then comeproudly home and tell you it had been pursued only for you to share; thinking,in my daydreams, how I would remind you, in that happy moment, of the manysilent tokens I had given of a boy’s attachment, and claim your hand, asin redemption of some old mute contract that had been sealed between us! Thattime has not arrived; but here, with not fame won, and no young visionrealised, I offer you the heart so long your own, and stake my all upon thewords with which you greet the offer.”

“Your behaviour has ever been kind and noble.” said Rose, masteringthe emotions by which she was agitated. “As you believe that I am notinsensible or ungrateful, so hear my answer.”

“It is, that I may endeavour to deserve you; it is, dear Rose?”

“It is,” replied Rose, “that you must endeavour to forget me;not as your old and dearly-attached companion, for that would wound me deeply;but, as the object of your love. Look into the world; think how many hearts youwould be proud to gain, are there. Confide some other passion to me, if youwill; I will be the truest, warmest, and most faithful friend you have.”

There was a pause, during which, Rose, who had covered her face with one hand,gave free vent to her tears. Harry still retained the other.

“And your reasons, Rose,” he said, at length, in a low voice;“your reasons for this decision?”

“You have a right to know them,” rejoined Rose. “You can saynothing to alter my resolution. It is a duty that I must perform. I owe it,alike to others, and to myself.”

“To yourself?”

“Yes, Harry. I owe it to myself, that I, a friendless, portionless, girl,with a blight upon my name, should not give your friends reason to suspect thatI had sordidly yielded to your first passion, and fastened myself, a clog, onall your hopes and projects. I owe it to you and yours, to prevent you fromopposing, in the warmth of your generous nature, this great obstacle to yourprogress in the world.”

“If your inclinations chime with your sense of duty—” Harrybegan.

“They do not,” replied Rose, colouring deeply.

“Then you return my love?” said Harry. “Say but that, dearRose; say but that; and soften the bitterness of this harddisappointment!”

“If I could have done so, without doing heavy wrong to him Iloved,” rejoined Rose, “I could have—”

“Have received this declaration very differently?” said Harry.“Do not conceal that from me, at least, Rose.”

“I could,” said Rose. “Stay!” she added, disengagingher hand, “why should we prolong this painful interview? Most painful tome, and yet productive of lasting happiness, notwithstanding; for itwill be happiness to know that I once held the high place in your regardwhich I now occupy, and every triumph you achieve in life will animate me withnew fortitude and firmness. Farewell, Harry! As we have met to-day, we meet nomore; but in other relations than those in which this conversation have placedus, we may be long and happily entwined; and may every blessing that theprayers of a true and earnest heart can call down from the source of all truthand sincerity, cheer and prosper you!”

“Another word, Rose,” said Harry. “Your reason in your ownwords. From your own lips, let me hear it!”

“The prospect before you,” answered Rose, firmly, “is abrilliant one. All the honours to which great talents and powerful connectionscan help men in public life, are in store for you. But those connections areproud; and I will neither mingle with such as may hold in scorn the mother whogave me life; nor bring disgrace or failure on the son of her who has so wellsupplied that mother’s place. In a word,” said the young lady,turning away, as her temporary firmness forsook her, “there is a stainupon my name, which the world visits on innocent heads. I will carry it into noblood but my own; and the reproach shall rest alone on me.”

“One word more, Rose. Dearest Rose! one more!” cried Harry,throwing himself before her. “If I had been less—less fortunate,the world would call it—if some obscure and peaceful life had been mydestiny—if I had been poor, sick, helpless—would you have turnedfrom me then? Or has my probable advancement to riches and honour, given thisscruple birth?”

“Do not press me to reply,” answered Rose. “The question doesnot arise, and never will. It is unfair, almost unkind, to urge it.”

“If your answer be what I almost dare to hope it is,” retortedHarry, “it will shed a gleam of happiness upon my lonely way, and lightthe path before me. It is not an idle thing to do so much, by the utterance ofa few brief words, for one who loves you beyond all else. Oh, Rose: in the nameof my ardent and enduring attachment; in the name of all I have suffered foryou, and all you doom me to undergo; answer me this one question!”

“Then, if your lot had been differently cast,” rejoined Rose;“if you had been even a little, but not so far, above me; if I could havebeen a help and comfort to you in any humble scene of peace and retirement, andnot a blot and drawback in ambitious and distinguished crowds; I should havebeen spared this trial. I have every reason to be happy, very happy, now; butthen, Harry, I own I should have been happier.”

Busy recollections of old hopes, cherished as a girl, long ago, crowded intothe mind of Rose, while making this avowal; but they brought tears with them,as old hopes will when they come back withered; and they relieved her.

“I cannot help this weakness, and it makes my purpose stronger,”said Rose, extending her hand. “I must leave you now, indeed.”

“I ask one promise,” said Harry. “Once, and only oncemore,—say within a year, but it may be much sooner,—I may speak toyou again on this subject, for the last time.”

“Not to press me to alter my right determination,” replied Rose,with a melancholy smile; “it will be useless.”

“No,” said Harry; “to hear you repeat it, if youwill—finally repeat it! I will lay at your feet, whatever of station offortune I may possess; and if you still adhere to your present resolution, willnot seek, by word or act, to change it.”

“Then let it be so,” rejoined Rose; “it is but one pang themore, and by that time I may be enabled to bear it better.”

She extended her hand again. But the young man caught her to his bosom; andimprinting one kiss on her beautiful forehead, hurried from the room.

“And so you are resolved to be my travelling companion this morning;eh?” said the doctor, as Harry Maylie joined him and Oliver at thebreakfast-table. “Why, you are not in the same mind or intention twohalf-hours together!”

“You will tell me a different tale one of these days,” said Harry,colouring without any perceptible reason.

“I hope I may have good cause to do so,” replied Mr. Losberne;“though I confess I don’t think I shall. But yesterday morning youhad made up your mind, in a great hurry, to stay here, and to accompany yourmother, like a dutiful son, to the sea-side. Before noon, you announce that youare going to do me the honour of accompanying me as far as I go, on your roadto London. And at night, you urge me, with great mystery, to start before theladies are stirring; the consequence of which is, that young Oliver here ispinned down to his breakfast when he ought to be ranging the meadows afterbotanical phenomena of all kinds. Too bad, isn’t it, Oliver?”

“I should have been very sorry not to have been at home when you and Mr.Maylie went away, sir,” rejoined Oliver.

“That’s a fine fellow,” said the doctor; “you shallcome and see me when you return. But, to speak seriously, Harry; has anycommunication from the great nobs produced this sudden anxiety on your part tobe gone?”

“The great nobs,” replied Harry, “under which designation, Ipresume, you include my most stately uncle, have not communicated with me atall, since I have been here; nor, at this time of the year, is it likely thatanything would occur to render necessary my immediate attendance amongthem.”

“Well,” said the doctor, “you are a queer fellow. But ofcourse they will get you into parliament at the election before Christmas, andthese sudden shiftings and changes are no bad preparation for political life.There’s something in that. Good training is always desirable, whether therace be for place, cup, or sweepstakes.”

Harry Maylie looked as if he could have followed up this short dialogue by oneor two remarks that would have staggered the doctor not a little; but hecontented himself with saying, “We shall see,” and pursued thesubject no farther. The post-chaise drove up to the door shortly afterwards;and Giles coming in for the luggage, the good doctor bustled out, to see itpacked.

“Oliver,” said Harry Maylie, in a low voice, “let me speak aword with you.”

Oliver walked into the window-recess to which Mr. Maylie beckoned him; muchsurprised at the mixture of sadness and boisterous spirits, which his wholebehaviour displayed.

“You can write well now?” said Harry, laying his hand upon his arm.

“I hope so, sir,” replied Oliver.

“I shall not be at home again, perhaps for some time; I wish you wouldwrite to me—say once a fort-night: every alternate Monday: to the GeneralPost Office in London. Will you?”

“Oh! certainly, sir; I shall be proud to do it,” exclaimed Oliver,greatly delighted with the commission.

“I should like to know how—how my mother and Miss Maylieare,” said the young man; “and you can fill up a sheet by tellingme what walks you take, and what you talk about, and whether she—they, Imean—seem happy and quite well. You understand me?”

“Oh! quite, sir, quite,” replied Oliver.

“I would rather you did not mention it to them,” said Harry,hurrying over his words; “because it might make my mother anxious towrite to me oftener, and it is a trouble and worry to her. Let it be a secretbetween you and me; and mind you tell me everything! I depend upon you.”

Oliver, quite elated and honoured by a sense of his importance, faithfullypromised to be secret and explicit in his communications. Mr. Maylie took leaveof him, with many assurances of his regard and protection.

The doctor was in the chaise; Giles (who, it had been arranged, should be leftbehind) held the door open in his hand; and the women-servants were in thegarden, looking on. Harry cast one slight glance at the latticed window, andjumped into the carriage.

“Drive on!” he cried, “hard, fast, full gallop! Nothing shortof flying will keep pace with me, to-day.”

“Halloa!” cried the doctor, letting down the front glass in a greathurry, and shouting to the postillion; “something very short of flyingwill keep pace with me. Do you hear?”

Jingling and clattering, till distance rendered its noise inaudible, and itsrapid progress only perceptible to the eye, the vehicle wound its way along theroad, almost hidden in a cloud of dust: now wholly disappearing, and nowbecoming visible again, as intervening objects, or the intricacies of the way,permitted. It was not until even the dusty cloud was no longer to be seen, thatthe gazers dispersed.

And there was one looker-on, who remained with eyes fixed upon the spot wherethe carriage had disappeared, long after it was many miles away; for, behindthe white curtain which had shrouded her from view when Harry raised his eyestowards the window, sat Rose herself.

“He seems in high spirits and happy,” she said, at length. “Ifeared for a time he might be otherwise. I was mistaken. I am very, veryglad.”

Tears are signs of gladness as well as grief; but those which coursed downRose’s face, as she sat pensively at the window, still gazing in the samedirection, seemed to tell more of sorrow than of joy.

Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour, with his eyes moodily fixed on thecheerless grate, whence, as it was summer time, no brighter gleam proceeded,than the reflection of certain sickly rays of the sun, which were sent backfrom its cold and shining surface. A paper fly-cage dangled from the ceiling,to which he occasionally raised his eyes in gloomy thought; and, as theheedless insects hovered round the gaudy net-work, Mr. Bumble would heave adeep sigh, while a more gloomy shadow overspread his countenance. Mr. Bumblewas meditating; it might be that the insects brought to mind, some painfulpassage in his own past life.

Nor was Mr. Bumble’s gloom the only thing calculated to awaken a pleasingmelancholy in the bosom of a spectator. There were not wanting otherappearances, and those closely connected with his own person, which announcedthat a great change had taken place in the position of his affairs. The lacedcoat, and the cocked hat; where were they? He still wore knee-breeches, anddark cotton stockings on his nether limbs; but they were not thebreeches. The coat was wide-skirted; and in that respect like the coat,but, oh how different! The mighty cocked hat was replaced by a modest roundone. Mr. Bumble was no longer a beadle.

There are some promotions in life, which, independent of the more substantialrewards they offer, require peculiar value and dignity from the coats andwaistcoats connected with them. A field-marshal has his uniform; a bishop hissilk apron; a counsellor his silk gown; a beadle his cocked hat. Strip thebishop of his apron, or the beadle of his hat and lace; what are they? Men.Mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coatand waistcoat than some people imagine.

Mr. Bumble had married Mrs. Corney, and was master of the workhouse. Anotherbeadle had come into power. On him the cocked hat, gold-laced coat, and staff,had all three descended.

“And to-morrow two months it was done!” said Mr. Bumble, with asigh. “It seems a age.”

Mr. Bumble might have meant that he had concentrated a whole existence ofhappiness into the short space of eight weeks; but the sigh—there was avast deal of meaning in the sigh.

“I sold myself,” said Mr. Bumble, pursuing the same train ofrelection, “for six teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a milk-pot;with a small quantity of second-hand furniture, and twenty pound in money. Iwent very reasonable. Cheap, dirt cheap!”

“Cheap!” cried a shrill voice in Mr. Bumble’s ear: “youwould have been dear at any price; and dear enough I paid for you, Lord aboveknows that!”

Mr. Bumble turned, and encountered the face of his interesting consort, who,imperfectly comprehending the few words she had overheard of his complaint, hadhazarded the foregoing remark at a venture.

“Mrs. Bumble, ma’am!” said Mr. Bumble, with a sentimentalsternness.

“Well!” cried the lady.

“Have the goodness to look at me,” said Mr. Bumble, fixing his eyesupon her.

“If she stands such a eye as that,” said Mr. Bumble to himself,“she can stand anything. It is a eye I never knew to fail with paupers.If it fails with her, my power is gone.”

Whether an exceedingly small expansion of eye be sufficient to quell paupers,who, being lightly fed, are in no very high condition; or whether the late Mrs.Corney was particularly proof against eagle glances; are matters of opinion.The matter of fact, is, that the matron was in no way overpowered by Mr.Bumble’s scowl, but, on the contrary, treated it with great disdain, andeven raised a laugh thereat, which sounded as though it were genuine.

On hearing this most unexpected sound, Mr. Bumble looked, first incredulous,and afterwards amazed. He then relapsed into his former state; nor did he rousehimself until his attention was again awakened by the voice of his partner.

“Are you going to sit snoring there, all day?” inquired Mrs.Bumble.

“I am going to sit here, as long as I think proper, ma’am,”rejoined Mr. Bumble; “and although I was not snoring, I shallsnore, gape, sneeze, laugh, or cry, as the humour strikes me; such being myprerogative.”

Your prerogative!” sneered Mrs. Bumble, with ineffablecontempt.

“I said the word, ma’am,” said Mr. Bumble. “Theprerogative of a man is to command.”

“And what’s the prerogative of a woman, in the name ofGoodness?” cried the relict of Mr. Corney deceased.

“To obey, ma’am,” thundered Mr. Bumble. “Your lateunfortunate husband should have taught it you; and then, perhaps, he might havebeen alive now. I wish he was, poor man!”

Mrs. Bumble, seeing at a glance, that the decisive moment had now arrived, andthat a blow struck for the mastership on one side or other, must necessarily befinal and conclusive, no sooner heard this allusion to the dead and gone, thanshe dropped into a chair, and with a loud scream that Mr. Bumble was ahard-hearted brute, fell into a paroxysm of tears.

But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble’s soul;his heart was waterproof. Like washable beaver hats that improve with rain, hisnerves were rendered stouter and more vigorous, by showers of tears, which,being tokens of weakness, and so far tacit admissions of his own power, pleasedand exalted him. He eyed his good lady with looks of great satisfaction, andbegged, in an encouraging manner, that she should cry her hardest: the exercisebeing looked upon, by the faculty, as strongly conducive to health.

“It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, andsoftens down the temper,” said Mr. Bumble. “So cry away.”

As he discharged himself of this pleasantry, Mr. Bumble took his hat from apeg, and putting it on, rather rakishly, on one side, as a man might, who felthe had asserted his superiority in a becoming manner, thrust his hands into hispockets, and sauntered towards the door, with much ease and waggishnessdepicted in his whole appearance.

Now, Mrs. Corney that was, had tried the tears, because they were lesstroublesome than a manual assault; but, she was quite prepared to make trial ofthe latter mode of proceeding, as Mr. Bumble was not long in discovering.

The first proof he experienced of the fact, was conveyed in a hollow sound,immediately succeeded by the sudden flying off of his hat to the opposite endof the room. This preliminary proceeding laying bare his head, the expert lady,clasping him tightly round the throat with one hand, inflicted a shower ofblows (dealt with singular vigour and dexterity) upon it with the other. Thisdone, she created a little variety by scratching his face, and tearing hishair; and, having, by this time, inflicted as much punishment as she deemednecessary for the offence, she pushed him over a chair, which was luckily wellsituated for the purpose: and defied him to talk about his prerogative again,if he dared.

“Get up!” said Mrs. Bumble, in a voice of command. “And takeyourself away from here, unless you want me to do something desperate.”

Mr. Bumble rose with a very rueful countenance: wondering much what somethingdesperate might be. Picking up his hat, he looked towards the door.

“Are you going?” demanded Mrs. Bumble.

“Certainly, my dear, certainly,” rejoined Mr. Bumble, making aquicker motion towards the door. “I didn’t intendto—I’m going, my dear! You are so very violent, that reallyI—”

At this instant, Mrs. Bumble stepped hastily forward to replace the carpet,which had been kicked up in the scuffle. Mr. Bumble immediately darted out ofthe room, without bestowing another thought on his unfinished sentence: leavingthe late Mrs. Corney in full possession of the field.

Mr. Bumble was fairly taken by surprise, and fairly beaten. He had a decidedpropensity for bullying: derived no inconsiderable pleasure from the exerciseof petty cruelty; and, consequently, was (it is needless to say) a coward. Thisis by no means a disparagement to his character; for many official personages,who are held in high respect and admiration, are the victims of similarinfirmities. The remark is made, indeed, rather in his favour than otherwise,and with a view of impressing the reader with a just sense of hisqualifications for office.

But, the measure of his degradation was not yet full. After making a tour ofthe house, and thinking, for the first time, that the poor-laws really were toohard on people; and that men who ran away from their wives, leaving themchargeable to the parish, ought, in justice to be visited with no punishment atall, but rather rewarded as meritorious individuals who had suffered much; Mr.Bumble came to a room where some of the female paupers were usually employed inwashing the parish linen: when the sound of voices in conversation, nowproceeded.

“Hem!” said Mr. Bumble, summoning up all his native dignity.“These women at least shall continue to respect the prerogative. Hallo!hallo there! What do you mean by this noise, you hussies?”

With these words, Mr. Bumble opened the door, and walked in with a very fierceand angry manner: which was at once exchanged for a most humiliated andcowering air, as his eyes unexpectedly rested on the form of his lady wife.

“My dear,” said Mr. Bumble, “I didn’t know you werehere.”

“Didn’t know I was here!” repeated Mrs. Bumble. “Whatdo you do here?”

“I thought they were talking rather too much to be doing their workproperly, my dear,” replied Mr. Bumble: glancing distractedly at a coupleof old women at the wash-tub, who were comparing notes of admiration at theworkhouse-master’s humility.

You thought they were talking too much?” said Mrs. Bumble.“What business is it of yours?”

“Why, my dear—” urged Mr. Bumble submissively.

“What business is it of yours?” demanded Mrs. Bumble, again.

“It’s very true, you’re matron here, my dear,”submitted Mr. Bumble; “but I thought you mightn’t be in the wayjust then.”

“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Bumble,” returned his lady.“We don’t want any of your interference. You’re a great dealtoo fond of poking your nose into things that don’t concern you, makingeverybody in the house laugh, the moment your back is turned, and makingyourself look like a fool every hour in the day. Be off; come!”

Mr. Bumble, seeing with excruciating feelings, the delight of the two oldpaupers, who were tittering together most rapturously, hesitated for aninstant. Mrs. Bumble, whose patience brooked no delay, caught up a bowl ofsoap-suds, and motioning him towards the door, ordered him instantly to depart,on pain of receiving the contents upon his portly person.

What could Mr. Bumble do? He looked dejectedly round, and slunk away; and, ashe reached the door, the titterings of the paupers broke into a shrill chuckleof irrepressible delight. It wanted but this. He was degraded in their eyes; hehad lost caste and station before the very paupers; he had fallen from all theheight and pomp of beadleship, to the lowest depth of the most snubbedhen-peckery.

“All in two months!” said Mr. Bumble, filled with dismal thoughts.“Two months! No more than two months ago, I was not only my own master,but everybody else’s, so far as the porochial workhouse was concerned,and now!—”

It was too much. Mr. Bumble boxed the ears of the boy who opened the gate forhim (for he had reached the portal in his reverie); and walked, distractedly,into the street.

He walked up one street, and down another, until exercise had abated the firstpassion of his grief; and then the revulsion of feeling made him thirsty. Hepassed a great many public-houses; but, at length paused before one in aby-way, whose parlour, as he gathered from a hasty peep over the blinds, wasdeserted, save by one solitary customer. It began to rain, heavily, at themoment. This determined him. Mr. Bumble stepped in; and ordering something todrink, as he passed the bar, entered the apartment into which he had lookedfrom the street.

The man who was seated there, was tall and dark, and wore a large cloak. He hadthe air of a stranger; and seemed, by a certain haggardness in his look, aswell as by the dusty soils on his dress, to have travelled some distance. Heeyed Bumble askance, as he entered, but scarcely deigned to nod his head inacknowledgment of his salutation.

Mr. Bumble had quite dignity enough for two; supposing even that the strangerhad been more familiar: so he drank his gin-and-water in silence, and read thepaper with great show of pomp and circumstance.

It so happened, however: as it will happen very often, when men fall intocompany under such circumstances: that Mr. Bumble felt, every now and then, apowerful inducement, which he could not resist, to steal a look at thestranger: and that whenever he did so, he withdrew his eyes, in some confusion,to find that the stranger was at that moment stealing a look at him. Mr.Bumble’s awkwardness was enhanced by the very remarkable expression ofthe stranger’s eye, which was keen and bright, but shadowed by a scowl ofdistrust and suspicion, unlike anything he had ever observed before, andrepulsive to behold.

When they had encountered each other’s glance several times in this way,the stranger, in a harsh, deep voice, broke silence.

“Were you looking for me,” he said, “when you peered in atthe window?”

“Not that I am aware of, unless you’re Mr.—” Here Mr.Bumble stopped short; for he was curious to know the stranger’s name, andthought in his impatience, he might supply the blank.

“I see you were not,” said the stranger; an expression of quietsarcasm playing about his mouth; “or you have known my name. Youdon’t know it. I would recommend you not to ask for it.”

“I meant no harm, young man,” observed Mr. Bumble, majestically.

“And have done none,” said the stranger.

Another silence succeeded this short dialogue: which was again broken by thestranger.

“I have seen you before, I think?” said he. “You weredifferently dressed at that time, and I only passed you in the street, but Ishould know you again. You were beadle here, once; were you not?”

“I was,” said Mr. Bumble, in some surprise; “porochialbeadle.”

“Just so,” rejoined the other, nodding his head. “It was inthat character I saw you. What are you now?”

“Master of the workhouse,” rejoined Mr. Bumble, slowly andimpressively, to check any undue familiarity the stranger might otherwiseassume. “Master of the workhouse, young man!”

“You have the same eye to your own interest, that you always had, I doubtnot?” resumed the stranger, looking keenly into Mr. Bumble’s eyes,as he raised them in astonishment at the question.

“Don’t scruple to answer freely, man. I know you pretty well, yousee.”

“I suppose, a married man,” replied Mr. Bumble, shading his eyeswith his hand, and surveying the stranger, from head to foot, in evidentperplexity, “is not more averse to turning an honest penny when he can,than a single one. Porochial officers are not so well paid that they can affordto refuse any little extra fee, when it comes to them in a civil and propermanner.”

The stranger smiled, and nodded his head again: as much to say, he had notmistaken his man; then rang the bell.

“Fill this glass again,” he said, handing Mr. Bumble’s emptytumbler to the landlord. “Let it be strong and hot. You like it so, Isuppose?”

“Not too strong,” replied Mr. Bumble, with a delicate cough.

“You understand what that means, landlord!” said the stranger,drily.

The host smiled, disappeared, and shortly afterwards returned with a steamingjorum: of which, the first gulp brought the water into Mr. Bumble’s eyes.

“Now listen to me,” said the stranger, after closing the door andwindow. “I came down to this place, to-day, to find you out; and, by oneof those chances which the devil throws in the way of his friends sometimes,you walked into the very room I was sitting in, while you were uppermost in mymind. I want some information from you. I don’t ask you to give it fornothing, slight as it is. Put up that, to begin with.”

As he spoke, he pushed a couple of sovereigns across the table to hiscompanion, carefully, as though unwilling that the chinking of money should beheard without. When Mr. Bumble had scrupulously examined the coins, to see thatthey were genuine, and had put them up, with much satisfaction, in hiswaistcoat-pocket, he went on:

“Carry your memory back—let me see—twelve years, lastwinter.”

“It’s a long time,” said Mr. Bumble. “Very good.I’ve done it.”

“The scene, the workhouse.”

“Good!”

“And the time, night.”

“Yes.”

“And the place, the crazy hole, wherever it was, in which miserable drabsbrought forth the life and health so often denied to themselves—gavebirth to puling children for the parish to rear; and hid their shame, rot’em in the grave!”

“The lying-in room, I suppose?” said Mr. Bumble, not quitefollowing the stranger’s excited description.

“Yes,” said the stranger. “A boy was born there.”

“A many boys,” observed Mr. Bumble, shaking his head, despondingly.

“A murrain on the young devils!” cried the stranger; “I speakof one; a meek-looking, pale-faced boy, who was apprenticed down here, to acoffin-maker—I wish he had made his coffin, and screwed his body init—and who afterwards ran away to London, as it was supposed.

“Why, you mean Oliver! Young Twist!” said Mr. Bumble; “Iremember him, of course. There wasn’t a obstinater youngrascal—”

“It’s not of him I want to hear; I’ve heard enough ofhim,” said the stranger, stopping Mr. Bumble in the outset of a tirade onthe subject of poor Oliver’s vices. “It’s of a woman; the hagthat nursed his mother. Where is she?”

“Where is she?” said Mr. Bumble, whom the gin-and-water hadrendered facetious. “It would be hard to tell. There’s no midwiferythere, whichever place she’s gone to; so I suppose she’s out ofemployment, anyway.”

“What do you mean?” demanded the stranger, sternly.

“That she died last winter,” rejoined Mr. Bumble.

The man looked fixedly at him when he had given this information, and althoughhe did not withdraw his eyes for some time afterwards, his gaze graduallybecame vacant and abstracted, and he seemed lost in thought. For some time, heappeared doubtful whether he ought to be relieved or disappointed by theintelligence; but at length he breathed more freely; and withdrawing his eyes,observed that it was no great matter. With that he rose, as if to depart.

But Mr. Bumble was cunning enough; and he at once saw that an opportunity wasopened, for the lucrative disposal of some secret in the possession of hisbetter half. He well remembered the night of old Sally’s death, which theoccurrences of that day had given him good reason to recollect, as the occasionon which he had proposed to Mrs. Corney; and although that lady had neverconfided to him the disclosure of which she had been the solitary witness, hehad heard enough to know that it related to something that had occurred in theold woman’s attendance, as workhouse nurse, upon the young mother ofOliver Twist. Hastily calling this circumstance to mind, he informed thestranger, with an air of mystery, that one woman had been closeted with the oldharridan shortly before she died; and that she could, as he had reason tobelieve, throw some light on the subject of his inquiry.

“How can I find her?” said the stranger, thrown off his guard; andplainly showing that all his fears (whatever they were) were aroused afresh bythe intelligence.

“Only through me,” rejoined Mr. Bumble.

“When?” cried the stranger, hastily.

“To-morrow,” rejoined Bumble.

“At nine in the evening,” said the stranger, producing a scrap ofpaper, and writing down upon it, an obscure address by the water-side, incharacters that betrayed his agitation; “at nine in the evening, bringher to me there. I needn’t tell you to be secret. It’s yourinterest.”

With these words, he led the way to the door, after stopping to pay for theliquor that had been drunk. Shortly remarking that their roads were different,he departed, without more ceremony than an emphatic repetition of the hour ofappointment for the following night.

On glancing at the address, the parochial functionary observed that itcontained no name. The stranger had not gone far, so he made after him to askit.

“What do you want?” cried the man, turning quickly round, as Bumbletouched him on the arm. “Following me?”

“Only to ask a question,” said the other, pointing to the scrap ofpaper. “What name am I to ask for?”

“Monks!” rejoined the man; and strode hastily away.

It was a dull, close, overcast summer evening. The clouds, which had beenthreatening all day, spread out in a dense and sluggish mass of vapour, alreadyyielded large drops of rain, and seemed to presage a violent thunder-storm,when Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, turning out of the main street of the town, directedtheir course towards a scattered little colony of ruinous houses, distant fromit some mile and a-half, or thereabouts, and erected on a low unwholesomeswamp, bordering upon the river.

They were both wrapped in old and shabby outer garments, which might, perhaps,serve the double purpose of protecting their persons from the rain, andsheltering them from observation. The husband carried a lantern, from which,however, no light yet shone; and trudged on, a few paces in front, asthough—the way being dirty—to give his wife the benefit of treadingin his heavy footprints. They went on, in profound silence; every now and then,Mr. Bumble relaxed his pace, and turned his head as if to make sure that hishelpmate was following; then, discovering that she was close at his heels, hemended his rate of walking, and proceeded, at a considerable increase of speed,towards their place of destination.

This was far from being a place of doubtful character; for it had long beenknown as the residence of none but low ruffians, who, under various pretencesof living by their labour, subsisted chiefly on plunder and crime. It was acollection of mere hovels: some, hastily built with loose bricks: others, ofold worm-eaten ship-timber: jumbled together without any attempt at order orarrangement, and planted, for the most part, within a few feet of theriver’s bank. A few leaky boats drawn up on the mud, and made fast to thedwarf wall which skirted it: and here and there an oar or coil of rope:appeared, at first, to indicate that the inhabitants of these miserablecottages pursued some avocation on the river; but a glance at the shattered anduseless condition of the articles thus displayed, would have led a passer-by,without much difficulty, to the conjecture that they were disposed there,rather for the preservation of appearances, than with any view to their beingactually employed.

In the heart of this cluster of huts; and skirting the river, which its upperstories overhung; stood a large building, formerly used as a manufactory ofsome kind. It had, in its day, probably furnished employment to the inhabitantsof the surrounding tenements. But it had long since gone to ruin. The rat, theworm, and the action of the damp, had weakened and rotted the piles on which itstood; and a considerable portion of the building had already sunk down intothe water; while the remainder, tottering and bending over the dark stream,seemed to wait a favourable opportunity of following its old companion, andinvolving itself in the same fate.

It was before this ruinous building that the worthy couple paused, as the firstpeal of distant thunder reverberated in the air, and the rain commenced pouringviolently down.

“The place should be somewhere here,” said Bumble, consulting ascrap of paper he held in his hand.

“Halloa there!” cried a voice from above.

Following the sound, Mr. Bumble raised his head and descried a man looking outof a door, breast-high, on the second story.

“Stand still, a minute,” cried the voice; “I’ll be withyou directly.” With which the head disappeared, and the door closed.

“Is that the man?” asked Mr. Bumble’s good lady.

Mr. Bumble nodded in the affirmative.

“Then, mind what I told you,” said the matron: “and becareful to say as little as you can, or you’ll betray us at once.”

Mr. Bumble, who had eyed the building with very rueful looks, was apparentlyabout to express some doubts relative to the advisability of proceeding anyfurther with the enterprise just then, when he was prevented by the appearanceof Monks: who opened a small door, near which they stood, and beckoned theminwards.

“Come in!” he cried impatiently, stamping his foot upon the ground.“Don’t keep me here!”

The woman, who had hesitated at first, walked boldly in, without any otherinvitation. Mr. Bumble, who was ashamed or afraid to lag behind, followed:obviously very ill at ease and with scarcely any of that remarkable dignitywhich was usually his chief characteristic.

“What the devil made you stand lingering there, in the wet?” saidMonks, turning round, and addressing Bumble, after he had bolted the doorbehind them.

“We—we were only cooling ourselves,” stammered Bumble,looking apprehensively about him.

“Cooling yourselves!” retorted Monks. “Not all the rain thatever fell, or ever will fall, will put as much of hell’s fire out, as aman can carry about with him. You won’t cool yourself so easily;don’t think it!”

With this agreeable speech, Monks turned short upon the matron, and bent hisgaze upon her, till even she, who was not easily cowed, was fain to withdrawher eyes, and turn them towards the ground.

“This is the woman, is it?” demanded Monks.

“Hem! That is the woman,” replied Mr. Bumble, mindful of hiswife’s caution.

“You think women never can keep secrets, I suppose?” said thematron, interposing, and returning, as she spoke, the searching look of Monks.

“I know they will always keep one till it’s foundout,” said Monks.

“And what may that be?” asked the matron.

“The loss of their own good name,” replied Monks. “So, by thesame rule, if a woman’s a party to a secret that might hang or transporther, I’m not afraid of her telling it to anybody; not I! Do youunderstand, mistress?”

“No,” rejoined the matron, slightly colouring as she spoke.

“Of course you don’t!” said Monks. “How shouldyou?”

Bestowing something half-way between a smile and a frown upon his twocompanions, and again beckoning them to follow him, the man hastened across theapartment, which was of considerable extent, but low in the roof. He waspreparing to ascend a steep staircase, or rather ladder, leading to anotherfloor of warehouses above: when a bright flash of lightning streamed down theaperture, and a peal of thunder followed, which shook the crazy building to itscentre.

“Hear it!” he cried, shrinking back. “Hear it! Rolling andcrashing on as if it echoed through a thousand caverns where the devils werehiding from it. I hate the sound!”

He remained silent for a few moments; and then, removing his hands suddenlyfrom his face, showed, to the unspeakable discomposure of Mr. Bumble, that itwas much distorted and discoloured.

“These fits come over me, now and then,” said Monks, observing hisalarm; “and thunder sometimes brings them on. Don’t mind me now;it’s all over for this once.”

Thus speaking, he led the way up the ladder; and hastily closing thewindow-shutter of the room into which it led, lowered a lantern which hung atthe end of a rope and pulley passed through one of the heavy beams in theceiling: and which cast a dim light upon an old table and three chairs thatwere placed beneath it.

“Now,” said Monks, when they had all three seated themselves,“the sooner we come to our business, the better for all. The woman knowwhat it is, does she?”

The question was addressed to Bumble; but his wife anticipated the reply, byintimating that she was perfectly acquainted with it.

“He is right in saying that you were with this hag the night she died;and that she told you something—”

“About the mother of the boy you named,” replied the matroninterrupting him. “Yes.”

“The first question is, of what nature was her communication?” saidMonks.

“That’s the second,” observed the woman with muchdeliberation. “The first is, what may the communication be worth?”

“Who the devil can tell that, without knowing of what kind it is?”asked Monks.

“Nobody better than you, I am persuaded,” answered Mrs. Bumble: whodid not want for spirit, as her yoke-fellow could abundantly testify.

“Humph!” said Monks significantly, and with a look of eagerinquiry; “there may be money’s worth to get, eh?”

“Perhaps there may,” was the composed reply.

“Something that was taken from her,” said Monks. “Somethingthat she wore. Something that—”

“You had better bid,” interrupted Mrs. Bumble. “I have heardenough, already, to assure me that you are the man I ought to talk to.”

Mr. Bumble, who had not yet been admitted by his better half into any greatershare of the secret than he had originally possessed, listened to this dialoguewith outstretched neck and distended eyes: which he directed towards his wifeand Monks, by turns, in undisguised astonishment; increased, if possible, whenthe latter sternly demanded, what sum was required for the disclosure.

“What’s it worth to you?” asked the woman, as collectedly asbefore.

“It may be nothing; it may be twenty pounds,” replied Monks.“Speak out, and let me know which.”

“Add five pounds to the sum you have named; give me five-and-twentypounds in gold,” said the woman; “and I’ll tell you all Iknow. Not before.”

“Five-and-twenty pounds!” exclaimed Monks, drawing back.

“I spoke as plainly as I could,” replied Mrs. Bumble.“It’s not a large sum, either.”

“Not a large sum for a paltry secret, that may be nothing when it’stold!” cried Monks impatiently; “and which has been lying dead fortwelve years past or more!”

“Such matters keep well, and, like good wine, often double their value incourse of time,” answered the matron, still preserving the resoluteindifference she had assumed. “As to lying dead, there are those who willlie dead for twelve thousand years to come, or twelve million, for anything youor I know, who will tell strange tales at last!”

“What if I pay it for nothing?” asked Monks, hesitating.

“You can easily take it away again,” replied the matron. “Iam but a woman; alone here; and unprotected.”

“Not alone, my dear, nor unprotected, neither,” submitted Mr.Bumble, in a voice tremulous with fear: “I am here, my dear. Andbesides,” said Mr. Bumble, his teeth chattering as he spoke, “Mr.Monks is too much of a gentleman to attempt any violence on porochial persons.Mr. Monks is aware that I am not a young man, my dear, and also that I am alittle run to seed, as I may say; bu he has heerd: I say I have no doubt Mr.Monks has heerd, my dear: that I am a very determined officer, with veryuncommon strength, if I’m once roused. I only want a little rousing;that’s all.”

As Mr. Bumble spoke, he made a melancholy feint of grasping his lantern withfierce determination; and plainly showed, by the alarmed expression of everyfeature, that he did want a little rousing, and not a little, prior tomaking any very warlike demonstration: unless, indeed, against paupers, orother person or persons trained down for the purpose.

“You are a fool,” said Mrs. Bumble, in reply; “and had betterhold your tongue.”

“He had better have cut it out, before he came, if he can’t speakin a lower tone,” said Monks, grimly. “So! He’s your husband,eh?”

“He my husband!” tittered the matron, parrying the question.

“I thought as much, when you came in,” rejoined Monks, marking theangry glance which the lady darted at her spouse as she spoke. “So muchthe better; I have less hesitation in dealing with two people, when I find thatthere’s only one will between them. I’m in earnest. Seehere!”

He thrust his hand into a side-pocket; and producing a canvas bag, told outtwenty-five sovereigns on the table, and pushed them over to the woman.

“Now,” he said, “gather them up; and when this cursed peal ofthunder, which I feel is coming up to break over the house-top, is gone,let’s hear your story.”

The thunder, which seemed in fact much nearer, and to shiver and break almostover their heads, having subsided, Monks, raising his face from the table, bentforward to listen to what the woman should say. The faces of the three nearlytouched, as the two men leant over the small table in their eagerness to hear,and the woman also leant forward to render her whisper audible. The sickly raysof the suspended lantern falling directly upon them, aggravated the palenessand anxiety of their countenances: which, encircled by the deepest gloom anddarkness, looked ghastly in the extreme.

“When this woman, that we called old Sally, died,” the matronbegan, “she and I were alone.”

“Was there no one by?” asked Monks, in the same hollow whisper;“No sick wretch or idiot in some other bed? No one who could hear, andmight, by possibility, understand?”

“Not a soul,” replied the woman; “we were alone. Istood alone beside the body when death came over it.”

“Good,” said Monks, regarding her attentively. “Go on.”

“She spoke of a young creature,” resumed the matron, “who hadbrought a child into the world some years before; not merely in the same room,but in the same bed, in which she then lay dying.”

“Ay?” said Monks, with quivering lip, and glancing over hisshoulder, “Blood! How things come about!”

“The child was the one you named to him last night,” said thematron, nodding carelessly towards her husband; “the mother this nursehad robbed.”

“In life?” asked Monks.

“In death,” replied the woman, with something like a shudder.“She stole from the corpse, when it had hardly turned to one, that whichthe dead mother had prayed her, with her last breath, to keep for theinfant’s sake.”

“She sold it,” cried Monks, with desperate eagerness; “didshe sell it? Where? When? To whom? How long before?”

“As she told me, with great difficulty, that she had done this,”said the matron, “she fell back and died.”

“Without saying more?” cried Monks, in a voice which, from its verysuppression, seemed only the more furious. “It’s a lie! I’llnot be played with. She said more. I’ll tear the life out of you both,but I’ll know what it was.”

“She didn’t utter another word,” said the woman, to allappearance unmoved (as Mr. Bumble was very far from being) by the strangeman’s violence; “but she clutched my gown, violently, with onehand, which was partly closed; and when I saw that she was dead, and so removedthe hand by force, I found it clasped a scrap of dirty paper.”

“Which contained—” interposed Monks, stretching forward.

“Nothing,” replied the woman; “it was a pawnbroker’sduplicate.”

“For what?” demanded Monks.

“In good time I’ll tell you.” said the woman. “I judgethat she had kept the trinket, for some time, in the hope of turning it tobetter account; and then had pawned it; and had saved or scraped together moneyto pay the pawnbroker’s interest year by year, and prevent its runningout; so that if anything came of it, it could still be redeemed. Nothing hadcome of it; and, as I tell you, she died with the scrap of paper, all worn andtattered, in her hand. The time was out in two days; I thought something mightone day come of it too; and so redeemed the pledge.”

“Where is it now?” asked Monks quickly.

There,” replied the woman. And, as if glad to be relievedof it, she hastily threw upon the table a small kid bag scarcely large enoughfor a French watch, which Monks pouncing upon, tore open with trembling hands.It contained a little gold locket: in which were two locks of hair, and a plaingold wedding-ring.

“It has the word ‘Agnes’ engraved on the inside,” saidthe woman.

“There is a blank left for the surname; and then follows the date; whichis within a year before the child was born. I found out that.”

“And this is all?” said Monks, after a close and eager scrutiny ofthe contents of the little packet.

“All,” replied the woman.

Mr. Bumble drew a long breath, as if he were glad to find that the story wasover, and no mention made of taking the five-and-twenty pounds back again; andnow he took courage to wipe the perspiration which had been trickling over hisnose, unchecked, during the whole of the previous dialogue.

“I know nothing of the story, beyond what I can guess at,” said hiswife addressing Monks, after a short silence; “and I want to knownothing; for it’s safer not. But I may ask you two questions, mayI?”

“You may ask,” said Monks, with some show of surprise; “butwhether I answer or not is another question.”

“—Which makes three,” observed Mr. Bumble, essaying a strokeof facetiousness.

“Is that what you expected to get from me?” demanded the matron.

“It is,” replied Monks. “The other question?”

“What do you propose to do with it? Can it be used against me?”

“Never,” rejoined Monks; “nor against me either. See here!But don’t move a step forward, or your life is not worth abulrush.”

With these words, he suddenly wheeled the table aside, and pulling an iron ringin the boarding, threw back a large trap-door which opened close at Mr.Bumble’s feet, and caused that gentleman to retire several pacesbackward, with great precipitation.

“Look down,” said Monks, lowering the lantern into the gulf.“Don’t fear me. I could have let you down, quietly enough, when youwere seated over it, if that had been my game.”

Thus encouraged, the matron drew near to the brink; and even Mr. Bumblehimself, impelled by curiousity, ventured to do the same. The turbid water,swollen by the heavy rain, was rushing rapidly on below; and all other soundswere lost in the noise of its plashing and eddying against the green and slimypiles. There had once been a water-mill beneath; the tide foaming and chafinground the few rotten stakes, and fragments of machinery that yet remained,seemed to dart onward, with a new impulse, when freed from the obstacles whichhad unavailingly attempted to stem its headlong course.

“If you flung a man’s body down there, where would it be to-morrowmorning?” said Monks, swinging the lantern to and fro in the dark well.

“Twelve miles down the river, and cut to pieces besides,” repliedBumble, recoiling at the thought.

Monks drew the little packet from his breast, where he had hurriedly thrust it;and tying it to a leaden weight, which had formed a part of some pulley, andwas lying on the floor, dropped it into the stream. It fell straight, and trueas a die; clove the water with a scarcely audible splash; and was gone.

The three looking into each other’s faces, seemed to breathe more freely.

“There!” said Monks, closing the trap-door, which fell heavily backinto its former position. “If the sea ever gives up its dead, as bookssay it will, it will keep its gold and silver to itself, and that trash amongit. We have nothing more to say, and may break up our pleasant party.”

“By all means,” observed Mr. Bumble, with great alacrity.

“You’ll keep a quiet tongue in your head, will you?” saidMonks, with a threatening look. “I am not afraid of your wife.”

“You may depend upon me, young man,” answered Mr. Bumble, bowinghimself gradually towards the ladder, with excessive politeness. “Oneverybody’s account, young man; on my own, you know, Mr. Monks.”

“I am glad, for your sake, to hear it,” remarked Monks.“Light your lantern! And get away from here as fast as you can.”

It was fortunate that the conversation terminated at this point, or Mr. Bumble,who had bowed himself to within six inches of the ladder, would infallibly havepitched headlong into the room below. He lighted his lantern from that whichMonks had detached from the rope, and now carried in his hand; and making noeffort to prolong the discourse, descended in silence, followed by his wife.Monks brought up the rear, after pausing on the steps to satisfy himself thatthere were no other sounds to be heard than the beating of the rain without,and the rushing of the water.

They traversed the lower room, slowly, and with caution; for Monks started atevery shadow; and Mr. Bumble, holding his lantern a foot above the ground,walked not only with remarkable care, but with a marvellously light step for agentleman of his figure: looking nervously about him for hidden trap-doors. Thegate at which they had entered, was softly unfastened and opened by Monks;merely exchanging a nod with their mysterious acquaintance, the married coupleemerged into the wet and darkness outside.

They were no sooner gone, than Monks, who appeared to entertain an invinciblerepugnance to being left alone, called to a boy who had been hidden somewherebelow. Bidding him go first, and bear the light, he returned to the chamber hehad just quitted.

On the evening following that upon which the three worthies mentioned in thelast chapter, disposed of their little matter of business as therein narrated,Mr. William Sikes, awakening from a nap, drowsily growled forth an inquiry whattime of night it was.

The room in which Mr. Sikes propounded this question, was not one of those hehad tenanted, previous to the Chertsey expedition, although it was in the samequarter of the town, and was situated at no great distance from his formerlodgings. It was not, in appearance, so desirable a habitation as his oldquarters: being a mean and badly-furnished apartment, of very limited size;lighted only by one small window in the shelving roof, and abutting on a closeand dirty lane. Nor were there wanting other indications of the goodgentleman’s having gone down in the world of late: for a great scarcityof furniture, and total absence of comfort, together with the disappearance ofall such small moveables as spare clothes and linen, bespoke a state of extremepoverty; while the meagre and attenuated condition of Mr. Sikes himself wouldhave fully confirmed these symptoms, if they had stood in any need ofcorroboration.

The housebreaker was lying on the bed, wrapped in his white great-coat, by wayof dressing-gown, and displaying a set of features in no degree improved by thecadaverous hue of illness, and the addition of a soiled nightcap, and a stiff,black beard of a week’s growth. The dog sat at the bedside: now eyeinghis master with a wistful look, and now pricking his ears, and uttering a lowgrowl as some noise in the street, or in the lower part of the house, attractedhis attention. Seated by the window, busily engaged in patching an oldwaistcoat which formed a portion of the robber’s ordinary dress, was afemale: so pale and reduced with watching and privation, that there would havebeen considerable difficulty in recognising her as the same Nancy who hasalready figured in this tale, but for the voice in which she replied to Mr.Sikes’s question.

“Not long gone seven,” said the girl. “How do you feelto-night, Bill?”

“As weak as water,” replied Mr. Sikes, with an imprecation on hiseyes and limbs. “Here; lend us a hand, and let me get off this thunderingbed anyhow.”

Illness had not improved Mr. Sikes’s temper; for, as the girl raised himup and led him to a chair, he muttered various curses on her awkwardness, andstruck her.

“Whining are you?” said Sikes. “Come! Don’t standsnivelling there. If you can’t do anything better than that, cut offaltogether. D’ye hear me?”

“I hear you,” replied the girl, turning her face aside, and forcinga laugh. “What fancy have you got in your head now?”

“Oh! you’ve thought better of it, have you?” growled Sikes,marking the tear which trembled in her eye. “All the better for you, youhave.”

“Why, you don’t mean to say, you’d be hard upon me to-night,Bill,” said the girl, laying her hand upon his shoulder.

“No!” cried Mr. Sikes. “Why not?”

“Such a number of nights,” said the girl, with a touch ofwoman’s tenderness, which communicated something like sweetness of tone,even to her voice: “such a number of nights as I’ve been patientwith you, nursing and caring for you, as if you had been a child: and this thefirst that I’ve seen you like yourself; you wouldn’t have served meas you did just now, if you’d thought of that, would you? Come, come; sayyou wouldn’t.”

“Well, then,” rejoined Mr. Sikes, “I wouldn’t. Why,damme, now, the girls’s whining again!”

“It’s nothing,” said the girl, throwing herself into a chair.“Don’t you seem to mind me. It’ll soon be over.”

“What’ll be over?” demanded Mr. Sikes in a savage voice.“What foolery are you up to, now, again? Get up and bustle about, anddon’t come over me with your woman’s nonsense.”

At any other time, this remonstrance, and the tone in which it was delivered,would have had the desired effect; but the girl being really weak andexhausted, dropped her head over the back of the chair, and fainted, before Mr.Sikes could get out a few of the appropriate oaths with which, on similaroccasions, he was accustomed to garnish his threats. Not knowing, very well,what to do, in this uncommon emergency; for Miss Nancy’s hysterics wereusually of that violent kind which the patient fights and struggles out of,without much assistance; Mr. Sikes tried a little blasphemy: and finding thatmode of treatment wholly ineffectual, called for assistance.

“What’s the matter here, my dear?” said Fagin, looking in.

“Lend a hand to the girl, can’t you?” replied Sikesimpatiently. “Don’t stand chattering and grinning at me!”

With an exclamation of surprise, Fagin hastened to the girl’s assistance,while Mr. John Dawkins (otherwise the Artful Dodger), who had followed hisvenerable friend into the room, hastily deposited on the floor a bundle withwhich he was laden; and snatching a bottle from the grasp of Master CharlesBates who came close at his heels, uncorked it in a twinkling with his teeth,and poured a portion of its contents down the patient’s throat:previously taking a taste, himself, to prevent mistakes.

“Give her a whiff of fresh air with the bellows, Charley,” said Mr.Dawkins; “and you slap her hands, Fagin, while Bill undoes thepetticuts.”

These united restoratives, administered with great energy: especially thatdepartment consigned to Master Bates, who appeared to consider his share in theproceedings, a piece of unexampled pleasantry: were not long in producing thedesired effect. The girl gradually recovered her senses; and, staggering to achair by the bedside, hid her face upon the pillow: leaving Mr. Sikes toconfront the new comers, in some astonishment at their unlooked-for appearance.

“Why, what evil wind has blowed you here?” he asked Fagin.

“No evil wind at all, my dear, for evil winds blow nobody any good; andI’ve brought something good with me, that you’ll be glad to see.Dodger, my dear, open the bundle; and give Bill the little trifles that wespent all our money on, this morning.”

In compliance with Mr. Fagin’s request, the Artful untied this bundle,which was of large size, and formed of an old table-cloth; and handed thearticles it contained, one by one, to Charley Bates: who placed them on thetable, with various encomiums on their rarity and excellence.

“Sitch a rabbit pie, Bill,” exclaimed that young gentleman,disclosing to view a huge pasty; “sitch delicate creeturs, with sitchtender limbs, Bill, that the wery bones melt in your mouth, and there’sno occasion to pick ’em; half a pound of seven and six-penny green, soprecious strong that if you mix it with biling water, it’ll go nigh toblow the lid of the tea-pot off; a pound and a half of moist sugar that theniggers didn’t work at all at, afore they got it up to sitch a pitch ofgoodness,—oh no! Two half-quartern brans; pound of best fresh; piece ofdouble Glo’ster; and, to wind up all, some of the richest sort you everlushed!”

Uttering this last panegyric, Master Bates produced, from one of his extensivepockets, a full-sized wine-bottle, carefully corked; while Mr. Dawkins, at thesame instant, poured out a wine-glassful of raw spirits from the bottle hecarried: which the invalid tossed down his throat without a moment’shesitation.

“Ah!” said Fagin, rubbing his hands with great satisfaction.“You’ll do, Bill; you’ll do now.”

“Do!” exclaimed Mr. Sikes; “I might have been done for,twenty times over, afore you’d have done anything to help me. What do youmean by leaving a man in this state, three weeks and more, you false-heartedwagabond?”

“Only hear him, boys!” said Fagin, shrugging his shoulders.“And us come to bring him all these beau-ti-ful things.”

“The things is well enough in their way,” observed Mr. Sikes: alittle soothed as he glanced over the table; “but what have you got tosay for yourself, why you should leave me here, down in the mouth, health,blunt, and everything else; and take no more notice of me, all this mortaltime, than if I was that ’ere dog.—Drive him down, Charley!”

“I never see such a jolly dog as that,” cried Master Bates, doingas he was desired. “Smelling the grub like a old lady a going to market!He’d make his fortun’ on the stage that dog would, and rewive thedrayma besides.”

“Hold your din,” cried Sikes, as the dog retreated under the bed:still growling angrily. “What have you got to say for yourself, youwithered old fence, eh?”

“I was away from London, a week and more, my dear, on a plant,”replied the Jew.

“And what about the other fortnight?” demanded Sikes. “Whatabout the other fortnight that you’ve left me lying here, like a sick ratin his hole?”

“I couldn’t help it, Bill. I can’t go into a long explanationbefore company; but I couldn’t help it, upon my honour.”

“Upon your what?” growled Sikes, with excessive disgust.“Here! Cut me off a piece of that pie, one of you boys, to take the tasteof that out of my mouth, or it’ll choke me dead.”

“Don’t be out of temper, my dear,” urged Fagin, submissively.“I have never forgot you, Bill; never once.”

“No! I’ll pound it that you han’t,” replied Sikes, witha bitter grin. “You’ve been scheming and plotting away, every hourthat I have laid shivering and burning here; and Bill was to do this; and Billwas to do that; and Bill was to do it all, dirt cheap, as soon as he got well:and was quite poor enough for your work. If it hadn’t been for the girl,I might have died.”

“There now, Bill,” remonstrated Fagin, eagerly catching at theword. “If it hadn’t been for the girl! Who but poor ould Fagin wasthe means of your having such a handy girl about you?”

“He says true enough there!” said Nancy, coming hastily forward.“Let him be; let him be.”

Nancy’s appearance gave a new turn to the conversation; for the boys,receiving a sly wink from the wary old Jew, began to ply her with liquor: ofwhich, however, she took very sparingly; while Fagin, assuming an unusual flowof spirits, gradually brought Mr. Sikes into a better temper, by affecting toregard his threats as a little pleasant banter; and, moreover, by laughing veryheartily at one or two rough jokes, which, after repeated applications to thespirit-bottle, he condescended to make.

“It’s all very well,” said Mr. Sikes; “but I must havesome blunt from you to-night.”

“I haven’t a piece of coin about me,” replied the Jew.

“Then you’ve got lots at home,” retorted Sikes; “and Imust have some from there.”

“Lots!” cried Fagin, holding up is hands. “I haven’t somuch as would—”

“I don’t know how much you’ve got, and I dare say you hardlyknow yourself, as it would take a pretty long time to count it,” saidSikes; “but I must have some to-night; and that’s flat.”

“Well, well,” said Fagin, with a sigh, “I’ll send theArtful round presently.”

“You won’t do nothing of the kind,” rejoined Mr. Sikes.“The Artful’s a deal too artful, and would forget to come, or losehis way, or get dodged by traps and so be perwented, or anything for an excuse,if you put him up to it. Nancy shall go to the ken and fetch it, to make allsure; and I’ll lie down and have a snooze while she’s gone.”

After a great deal of haggling and squabbling, Fagin beat down the amount ofthe required advance from five pounds to three pounds four and sixpence:protesting with many solemn asseverations that that would only leave himeighteen-pence to keep house with; Mr. Sikes sullenly remarking that if hecouldn’t get any more he must accompany him home; with the Dodger andMaster Bates put the eatables in the cupboard. The Jew then, taking leave ofhis affectionate friend, returned homeward, attended by Nancy and the boys: Mr.Sikes, meanwhile, flinging himself on the bed, and composing himself to sleepaway the time until the young lady’s return.

In due course, they arrived at Fagin’s abode, where they found TobyCrackit and Mr. Chitling intent upon their fifteenth game at cribbage, which itis scarcely necessary to say the latter gentleman lost, and with it, hisfifteenth and last sixpence: much to the amusement of his young friends. Mr.Crackit, apparently somewhat ashamed at being found relaxing himself with agentleman so much his inferior in station and mental endowments, yawned, andinquiring after Sikes, took up his hat to go.

“Has nobody been, Toby?” asked Fagin.

“Not a living leg,” answered Mr. Crackit, pulling up his collar;“it’s been as dull as swipes. You ought to stand somethinghandsome, Fagin, to recompense me for keeping house so long. Damme, I’mas flat as a juryman; and should have gone to sleep, as fast as Newgate, if Ihadn’t had the good natur’ to amuse this youngster. Horrid dull,I’m blessed if I an’t!”

With these and other ejaculations of the same kind, Mr. Toby Crackit swept uphis winnings, and crammed them into his waistcoat pocket with a haughty air, asthough such small pieces of silver were wholly beneath the consideration of aman of his figure; this done, he swaggered out of the room, with so muchelegance and gentility, that Mr. Chitling, bestowing numerous admiring glanceson his legs and boots till they were out of sight, assured the company that heconsidered his acquaintance cheap at fifteen sixpences an interview, and thathe didn’t value his losses the snap of his little finger.

“Wot a rum chap you are, Tom!” said Master Bates, highly amused bythis declaration.

“Not a bit of it,” replied Mr. Chitling. “Am I, Fagin?”

“A very clever fellow, my dear,” said Fagin, patting him on theshoulder, and winking to his other pupils.

“And Mr. Crackit is a heavy swell; an’t he, Fagin?” askedTom.

“No doubt at all of that, my dear.”

“And it is a creditable thing to have his acquaintance; an’t it,Fagin?” pursued Tom.

“Very much so, indeed, my dear. They’re only jealous, Tom, becausehe won’t give it to them.”

“Ah!” cried Tom, triumphantly, “that’s where it is! Hehas cleaned me out. But I can go and earn some more, when I like; can’tI, Fagin?”

“To be sure you can, and the sooner you go the better, Tom; so make upyour loss at once, and don’t lose any more time. Dodger! Charley!It’s time you were on the lay. Come! It’s near ten, and nothingdone yet.”

In obedience to this hint, the boys, nodding to Nancy, took up their hats, andleft the room; the Dodger and his vivacious friend indulging, as they went, inmany witticisms at the expense of Mr. Chitling; in whose conduct, it is butjustice to say, there was nothing very conspicuous or peculiar: inasmuch asthere are a great number of spirited young bloods upon town, who pay a muchhigher price than Mr. Chitling for being seen in good society: and a greatnumber of fine gentlemen (composing the good society aforesaid) who establishedtheir reputation upon very much the same footing as flash Toby Crackit.

“Now,” said Fagin, when they had left the room, “I’llgo and get you that cash, Nancy. This is only the key of a little cupboardwhere I keep a few odd things the boys get, my dear. I never lock up my money,for I’ve got none to lock up, my dear—ha! ha! ha!—none tolock up. It’s a poor trade, Nancy, and no thanks; but I’m fond ofseeing the young people about me; and I bear it all, I bear it all.Hush!” he said, hastily concealing the key in his breast;“who’s that? Listen!”

The girl, who was sitting at the table with her arms folded, appeared in no wayinterested in the arrival: or to care whether the person, whoever he was, cameor went: until the murmur of a man’s voice reached her ears. The instantshe caught the sound, she tore off her bonnet and shawl, with the rapidity oflightning, and thrust them under the table. The Jew, turning round immediatelyafterwards, she muttered a complaint of the heat: in a tone of languor thatcontrasted, very remarkably, with the extreme haste and violence of thisaction: which, however, had been unobserved by Fagin, who had his back towardsher at the time.

“Bah!” he whispered, as though nettled by the interruption;“it’s the man I expected before; he’s coming downstairs. Nota word about the money while he’s here, Nance. He won’t stop long.Not ten minutes, my dear.”

Laying his skinny forefinger upon his lip, the Jew carried a candle to thedoor, as a man’s step was heard upon the stairs without. He reached it,at the same moment as the visitor, who, coming hastily into the room, was closeupon the girl before he observed her.

It was Monks.

“Only one of my young people,” said Fagin, observing that Monksdrew back, on beholding a stranger. “Don’t move, Nancy.”

The girl drew closer to the table, and glancing at Monks with an air ofcareless levity, withdrew her eyes; but as he turned towards Fagin, she stoleanother look; so keen and searching, and full of purpose, that if there hadbeen any bystander to observe the change, he could hardly have believed the twolooks to have proceeded from the same person.

“Any news?” inquired Fagin.

“Great.”

“And—and—good?” asked Fagin, hesitating as though hefeared to vex the other man by being too sanguine.

“Not bad, any way,” replied Monks with a smile. “I have beenprompt enough this time. Let me have a word with you.”

The girl drew closer to the table, and made no offer to leave the room,although she could see that Monks was pointing to her. The Jew: perhaps fearingshe might say something aloud about the money, if he endeavoured to get rid ofher: pointed upward, and took Monks out of the room.

“Not that infernal hole we were in before,” she could hear the mansay as they went upstairs. Fagin laughed; and making some reply which did notreach her, seemed, by the creaking of the boards, to lead his companion to thesecond story.

Before the sound of their footsteps had ceased to echo through the house, thegirl had slipped off her shoes; and drawing her gown loosely over her head, andmuffling her arms in it, stood at the door, listening with breathless interest.The moment the noise ceased, she glided from the room; ascended the stairs withincredible softness and silence; and was lost in the gloom above.

The room remained deserted for a quarter of an hour or more; the girl glidedback with the same unearthly tread; and, immediately afterwards, the two menwere heard descending. Monks went at once into the street; and the Jew crawledupstairs again for the money. When he returned, the girl was adjusting hershawl and bonnet, as if preparing to be gone.

“Why, Nance!” exclaimed the Jew, starting back as he put down thecandle, “how pale you are!”

“Pale!” echoed the girl, shading her eyes with her hands, as if tolook steadily at him.

“Quite horrible. What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Nothing that I know of, except sitting in this close place for Idon’t know how long and all,” replied the girl carelessly.“Come! Let me get back; that’s a dear.”

With a sigh for every piece of money, Fagin told the amount into her hand. Theyparted without more conversation, merely interchanging a“good-night.”

When the girl got into the open street, she sat down upon a doorstep; andseemed, for a few moments, wholly bewildered and unable to pursue her way.Suddenly she arose; and hurrying on, in a direction quite opposite to that inwhich Sikes was awaiting her returned, quickened her pace, until it graduallyresolved into a violent run. After completely exhausting herself, she stoppedto take breath: and, as if suddenly recollecting herself, and deploring herinability to do something she was bent upon, wrung her hands, and burst intotears.

It might be that her tears relieved her, or that she felt the full hopelessnessof her condition; but she turned back; and hurrying with nearly as greatrapidity in the contrary direction; partly to recover lost time, and partly tokeep pace with the violent current of her own thoughts: soon reached thedwelling where she had left the housebreaker.

If she betrayed any agitation, when she presented herself to Mr. Sikes, he didnot observe it; for merely inquiring if she had brought the money, andreceiving a reply in the affirmative, he uttered a growl of satisfaction, andreplacing his head upon the pillow, resumed the slumbers which her arrival hadinterrupted.

It was fortunate for her that the possession of money occasioned him so muchemployment next day in the way of eating and drinking; and withal had sobeneficial an effect in smoothing down the asperities of his temper; that hehad neither time nor inclination to be very critical upon her behaviour anddeportment. That she had all the abstracted and nervous manner of one who is onthe eve of some bold and hazardous step, which it has required no commonstruggle to resolve upon, would have been obvious to the lynx-eyed Fagin, whowould most probably have taken the alarm at once; but Mr. Sikes lacking theniceties of discrimination, and being troubled with no more subtle misgivingsthan those which resolve themselves into a dogged roughness of behaviourtowards everybody; and being, furthermore, in an unusually amiable condition,as has been already observed; saw nothing unusual in her demeanor, and indeed,troubled himself so little about her, that, had her agitation been far moreperceptible than it was, it would have been very unlikely to have awakened hissuspicions.

As that day closed in, the girl’s excitement increased; and, when nightcame on, and she sat by, watching until the housebreaker should drink himselfasleep, there was an unusual paleness in her cheek, and a fire in her eye, thateven Sikes observed with astonishment.

Mr. Sikes being weak from the fever, was lying in bed, taking hot water withhis gin to render it less inflammatory; and had pushed his glass towards Nancyto be replenished for the third or fourth time, when these symptoms firststruck him.

“Why, burn my body!” said the man, raising himself on his hands ashe stared the girl in the face. “You look like a corpse come to lifeagain. What’s the matter?”

“Matter!” replied the girl. “Nothing. What do you look at meso hard for?”

“What foolery is this?” demanded Sikes, grasping her by the arm,and shaking her roughly. “What is it? What do you mean? What are youthinking of?”

“Of many things, Bill,” replied the girl, shivering, and as she didso, pressing her hands upon her eyes. “But, Lord! What odds inthat?”

The tone of forced gaiety in which the last words were spoken, seemed toproduce a deeper impression on Sikes than the wild and rigid look which hadpreceded them.

“I tell you wot it is,” said Sikes; “if you haven’tcaught the fever, and got it comin’ on, now, there’s something morethan usual in the wind, and something dangerous too. You’re not a-goingto—. No, damme! you wouldn’t do that!”

“Do what?” asked the girl.

“There ain’t,” said Sikes, fixing his eyes upon her, andmuttering the words to himself; “there ain’t a stauncher-heartedgal going, or I’d have cut her throat three months ago. She’s gotthe fever coming on; that’s it.”

Fortifying himself with this assurance, Sikes drained the glass to the bottom,and then, with many grumbling oaths, called for his physic. The girl jumped up,with great alacrity; poured it quickly out, but with her back towards him; andheld the vessel to his lips, while he drank off the contents.

“Now,” said the robber, “come and sit aside of me, and put onyour own face; or I’ll alter it so, that you won’t know it aginwhen you do want it.”

The girl obeyed. Sikes, locking her hand in his, fell back upon the pillow:turning his eyes upon her face. They closed; opened again; closed once more;again opened. He shifted his position restlessly; and, after dozing again, andagain, for two or three minutes, and as often springing up with a look ofterror, and gazing vacantly about him, was suddenly stricken, as it were, whilein the very attitude of rising, into a deep and heavy sleep. The grasp of hishand relaxed; the upraised arm fell languidly by his side; and he lay like onein a profound trance.

“The laudanum has taken effect at last,” murmured the girl, as sherose from the bedside. “I may be too late, even now.”

She hastily dressed herself in her bonnet and shawl: looking fearfully round,from time to time, as if, despite the sleeping draught, she expected everymoment to feel the pressure of Sikes’s heavy hand upon her shoulder;then, stooping softly over the bed, she kissed the robber’s lips; andthen opening and closing the room-door with noiseless touch, hurried from thehouse.

A watchman was crying half-past nine, down a dark passage through which she hadto pass, in gaining the main thoroughfare.

“Has it long gone the half-hour?” asked the girl.

“It’ll strike the hour in another quarter,” said the man:raising his lantern to her face.

“And I cannot get there in less than an hour or more,” mutteredNancy: brushing swiftly past him, and gliding rapidly down the street.

Many of the shops were already closing in the back lanes and avenues throughwhich she tracked her way, in making from Spitalfields towards the West-End ofLondon. The clock struck ten, increasing her impatience. She tore along thenarrow pavement: elbowing the passengers from side to side; and darting almostunder the horses’ heads, crossed crowded streets, where clusters ofpersons were eagerly watching their opportunity to do the like.

“The woman is mad!” said the people, turning to look after her asshe rushed away.

When she reached the more wealthy quarter of the town, the streets werecomparatively deserted; and here her headlong progress excited a still greatercuriosity in the stragglers whom she hurried past. Some quickened their pacebehind, as though to see whither she was hastening at such an unusual rate; anda few made head upon her, and looked back, surprised at her undiminished speed;but they fell off one by one; and when she neared her place of destination, shewas alone.

It was a family hotel in a quiet but handsome street near Hyde Park. As thebrilliant light of the lamp which burnt before its door, guided her to thespot, the clock struck eleven. She had loitered for a few paces as thoughirresolute, and making up her mind to advance; but the sound determined her,and she stepped into the hall. The porter’s seat was vacant. She lookedround with an air of incertitude, and advanced towards the stairs.

“Now, young woman!” said a smartly-dressed female, looking out froma door behind her, “who do you want here?”

“A lady who is stopping in this house,” answered the girl.

“A lady!” was the reply, accompanied with a scornful look.“What lady?”

“Miss Maylie,” said Nancy.

The young woman, who had by this time, noted her appearance, replied only by alook of virtuous disdain; and summoned a man to answer her. To him, Nancyrepeated her request.

“What name am I to say?” asked the waiter.

“It’s of no use saying any,” replied Nancy.

“Nor business?” said the man.

“No, nor that neither,” rejoined the girl. “I must see thelady.”

“Come!” said the man, pushing her towards the door. “None ofthis. Take yourself off.”

“I shall be carried out if I go!” said the girl violently;“and I can make that a job that two of you won’t like to do.Isn’t there anybody here,” she said, looking round, “thatwill see a simple message carried for a poor wretch like me?”

This appeal produced an effect on a good-tempered-faced man-cook, who with someof the other servants was looking on, and who stepped forward to interfere.

“Take it up for her, Joe; can’t you?” said this person.

“What’s the good?” replied the man. “You don’tsuppose the young lady will see such as her; do you?”

This allusion to Nancy’s doubtful character, raised a vast quantity ofchaste wrath in the bosoms of four housemaids, who remarked, with greatfervour, that the creature was a disgrace to her sex; and strongly advocatedher being thrown, ruthlessly, into the kennel.

“Do what you like with me,” said the girl, turning to the menagain; “but do what I ask you first, and I ask you to give this messagefor God Almighty’s sake.”

The soft-hearted cook added his intercession, and the result was that the manwho had first appeared undertook its delivery.

“What’s it to be?” said the man, with one foot on the stairs.

“That a young woman earnestly asks to speak to Miss Maylie alone,”said Nancy; “and that if the lady will only hear the first word she hasto say, she will know whether to hear her business, or to have her turned outof doors as an impostor.”

“I say,” said the man, “you’re coming it strong!”

“You give the message,” said the girl firmly; “and let mehear the answer.”

The man ran upstairs. Nancy remained, pale and almost breathless, listeningwith quivering lip to the very audible expressions of scorn, of which thechaste housemaids were very prolific; and of which they became still more so,when the man returned, and said the young woman was to walk upstairs.

“It’s no good being proper in this world,” said the firsthousemaid.

“Brass can do better than the gold what has stood the fire,” saidthe second.

The third contented herself with wondering “what ladies was madeof”; and the fourth took the first in a quartette of“Shameful!” with which the Dianas concluded.

Regardless of all this: for she had weightier matters at heart: Nancy followedthe man, with trembling limbs, to a small ante-chamber, lighted by a lamp fromthe ceiling. Here he left her, and retired.

The girl’s life had been squandered in the streets, and among the mostnoisome of the stews and dens of London, but there was something of thewoman’s original nature left in her still; and when she heard a lightstep approaching the door opposite to that by which she had entered, andthought of the wide contrast which the small room would in another momentcontain, she felt burdened with the sense of her own deep shame, and shrunk asthough she could scarcely bear the presence of her with whom she had soughtthis interview.

But struggling with these better feelings was pride,—the vice of thelowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured.The miserable companion of thieves and ruffians, the fallen outcast of lowhaunts, the associate of the scourings of the jails and hulks, living withinthe shadow of the gallows itself,—even this degraded being felt too proudto betray a feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which she thought a weakness,but which alone connected her with that humanity, of which her wasting life hadobliterated so many, many traces when a very child.

She raised her eyes sufficiently to observe that the figure which presenteditself was that of a slight and beautiful girl; then, bending them on theground, she tossed her head with affected carelessness as she said:

“It’s a hard matter to get to see you, lady. If I had takenoffence, and gone away, as many would have done, you’d have been sorryfor it one day, and not without reason either.”

“I am very sorry if any one has behaved harshly to you,” repliedRose. “Do not think of that. Tell me why you wished to see me. I am theperson you inquired for.”

The kind tone of this answer, the sweet voice, the gentle manner, the absenceof any accent of haughtiness or displeasure, took the girl completely bysurprise, and she burst into tears.

“Oh, lady, lady!” she said, clasping her hands passionately beforeher face, “if there was more like you, there would be fewer likeme,—there would—there would!”

“Sit down,” said Rose, earnestly. “If you are in poverty oraffliction I shall be truly glad to relieve you if I can,—I shall indeed.Sit down.”

“Let me stand, lady,” said the girl, still weeping, “and donot speak to me so kindly till you know me better. It is growing late.Is—is—that door shut?”

“Yes,” said Rose, recoiling a few steps, as if to be nearerassistance in case she should require it. “Why?”

“Because,” said the girl, “I am about to put my life and thelives of others in your hands. I am the girl that dragged little Oliver back toold Fagin’s on the night he went out from the house inPentonville.”

“You!” said Rose Maylie.

“I, lady!” replied the girl. “I am the infamous creature youhave heard of, that lives among the thieves, and that never from the firstmoment I can recollect my eyes and senses opening on London streets have knownany better life, or kinder words than they have given me, so help me God! Donot mind shrinking openly from me, lady. I am younger than you would think, tolook at me, but I am well used to it. The poorest women fall back, as I make myway along the crowded pavement.”

“What dreadful things are these!” said Rose, involuntarily fallingfrom her strange companion.

“Thank Heaven upon your knees, dear lady,” cried the girl,“that you had friends to care for and keep you in your childhood, andthat you were never in the midst of cold and hunger, and riot and drunkenness,and—and—something worse than all—as I have been from mycradle. I may use the word, for the alley and the gutter were mine, as theywill be my deathbed.”

“I pity you!” said Rose, in a broken voice. “It wrings myheart to hear you!”

“Heaven bless you for your goodness!” rejoined the girl. “Ifyou knew what I am sometimes, you would pity me, indeed. But I have stolen awayfrom those who would surely murder me, if they knew I had been here, to tellyou what I have overheard. Do you know a man named Monks?”

“No,” said Rose.

“He knows you,” replied the girl; “and knew you were here,for it was by hearing him tell the place that I found you out.”

“I never heard the name,” said Rose.

“Then he goes by some other amongst us,” rejoined the girl,“which I more than thought before. Some time ago, and soon after Oliverwas put into your house on the night of the robbery, I—suspecting thisman—listened to a conversation held between him and Fagin in the dark. Ifound out, from what I heard, that Monks—the man I asked you about, youknow—”

“Yes,” said Rose, “I understand.”

“—That Monks,” pursued the girl, “had seen himaccidently with two of our boys on the day we first lost him, and had known himdirectly to be the same child that he was watching for, though I couldn’tmake out why. A bargain was struck with Fagin, that if Oliver was got back heshould have a certain sum; and he was to have more for making him a thief,which this Monks wanted for some purpose of his own.”

“For what purpose?” asked Rose.

“He caught sight of my shadow on the wall as I listened, in the hope offinding out,” said the girl; “and there are not many people besidesme that could have got out of their way in time to escape discovery. But I did;and I saw him no more till last night.”

“And what occurred then?”

“I’ll tell you, lady. Last night he came again. Again they wentupstairs, and I, wrapping myself up so that my shadow would not betray me,again listened at the door. The first words I heard Monks say were these:‘So the only proofs of the boy’s identity lie at the bottom of theriver, and the old hag that received them from the mother is rotting in hercoffin.’ They laughed, and talked of his success in doing this; andMonks, talking on about the boy, and getting very wild, said that though he hadgot the young devil’s money safely now, he’d rather have had it theother way; for, what a game it would have been to have brought down the boastof the father’s will, by driving him through every jail in town, and thenhauling him up for some capital felony which Fagin could easily manage, afterhaving made a good profit of him besides.”

“What is all this!” said Rose.

“The truth, lady, though it comes from my lips,” replied the girl.“Then, he said, with oaths common enough in my ears, but strange toyours, that if he could gratify his hatred by taking the boy’s lifewithout bringing his own neck in danger, he would; but, as he couldn’t,he’d be upon the watch to meet him at every turn in life; and if he tookadvantage of his birth and history, he might harm him yet. ‘In short,Fagin,’ he says, ‘Jew as you are, you never laid such snares asI’ll contrive for my young brother, Oliver.’”

“His brother!” exclaimed Rose.

“Those were his words,” said Nancy, glancing uneasily round, as shehad scarcely ceased to do, since she began to speak, for a vision of Sikeshaunted her perpetually. “And more. When he spoke of you and the otherlady, and said it seemed contrived by Heaven, or the devil, against him, thatOliver should come into your hands, he laughed, and said there was some comfortin that too, for how many thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds wouldyou not give, if you had them, to know who your two-legged spaniel was.”

“You do not mean,” said Rose, turning very pale, “to tell methat this was said in earnest?”

“He spoke in hard and angry earnest, if a man ever did,” repliedthe girl, shaking her head. “He is an earnest man when his hatred is up.I know many who do worse things; but I’d rather listen to them all adozen times, than to that Monks once. It is growing late, and I have to reachhome without suspicion of having been on such an errand as this. I must getback quickly.”

“But what can I do?” said Rose. “To what use can I turn thiscommunication without you? Back! Why do you wish to return to companions youpaint in such terrible colors? If you repeat this information to a gentlemanwhom I can summon in an instant from the next room, you can be consigned tosome place of safety without half an hour’s delay.”

“I wish to go back,” said the girl. “I must go back,because—how can I tell such things to an innocent lady likeyou?—because among the men I have told you of, there is one: the mostdesperate among them all; that I can’t leave: no, not even to be savedfrom the life I am leading now.”

“Your having interfered in this dear boy’s behalf before,”said Rose; “your coming here, at so great a risk, to tell me what youhave heard; your manner, which convinces me of the truth of what you say; yourevident contrition, and sense of shame; all lead me to believe that you mightyet be reclaimed. Oh!” said the earnest girl, folding her hands as thetears coursed down her face, “do not turn a deaf ear to the entreaties ofone of your own sex; the first—the first, I do believe, who ever appealedto you in the voice of pity and compassion. Do hear my words, and let me saveyou yet, for better things.”

“Lady,” cried the girl, sinking on her knees, “dear, sweet,angel lady, you are the first that ever blessed me with such words asthese, and if I had heard them years ago, they might have turned me from a lifeof sin and sorrow; but it is too late, it is too late!”

“It is never too late,” said Rose, “for penitence andatonement.”

“It is,” cried the girl, writhing in agony of her mind; “Icannot leave him now! I could not be his death.”

“Why should you be?” asked Rose.

“Nothing could save him,” cried the girl. “If I told otherswhat I have told you, and led to their being taken, he would be sure to die. Heis the boldest, and has been so cruel!”

“Is it possible,” cried Rose, “that for such a man as this,you can resign every future hope, and the certainty of immediate rescue? It ismadness.”

“I don’t know what it is,” answered the girl; “I onlyknow that it is so, and not with me alone, but with hundreds of others as badand wretched as myself. I must go back. Whether it is God’s wrath for thewrong I have done, I do not know; but I am drawn back to him through everysuffering and ill usage; and I should be, I believe, if I knew that I was todie by his hand at last.”

“What am I to do?” said Rose. “I should not let you departfrom me thus.”

“You should, lady, and I know you will,” rejoined the girl, rising.“You will not stop my going because I have trusted in your goodness, andforced no promise from you, as I might have done.”

“Of what use, then, is the communication you have made?” said Rose.“This mystery must be investigated, or how will its disclosure to me,benefit Oliver, whom you are anxious to serve?”

“You must have some kind gentleman about you that will hear it as asecret, and advise you what to do,” rejoined the girl.

“But where can I find you again when it is necessary?” asked Rose.“I do not seek to know where these dreadful people live, but where willyou be walking or passing at any settled period from this time?”

“Will you promise me that you will have my secret strictly kept, and comealone, or with the only other person that knows it; and that I shall not bewatched or followed?” asked the girl.

“I promise you solemnly,” answered Rose.

“Every Sunday night, from eleven until the clock strikes twelve,”said the girl without hesitation, “I will walk on London Bridge if I amalive.”

“Stay another moment,” interposed Rose, as the girl moved hurriedlytowards the door. “Think once again on your own condition, and theopportunity you have of escaping from it. You have a claim on me: not only asthe voluntary bearer of this intelligence, but as a woman lost almost beyondredemption. Will you return to this gang of robbers, and to this man, when aword can save you? What fascination is it that can take you back, and make youcling to wickedness and misery? Oh! is there no chord in your heart that I cantouch! Is there nothing left, to which I can appeal against this terribleinfatuation!”

“When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are,” repliedthe girl steadily, “give away your hearts, love will carry you alllengths—even such as you, who have home, friends, other admirers,everything, to fill them. When such as I, who have no certain roof but thecoffinlid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set ourrotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that has been a blankthrough all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us,lady—pity us for having only one feeling of the woman left, and forhaving that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and a pride, into a newmeans of violence and suffering.”

“You will,” said Rose, after a pause, “take some money fromme, which may enable you to live without dishonesty—at all events untilwe meet again?”

“Not a penny,” replied the girl, waving her hand.

“Do not close your heart against all my efforts to help you,” saidRose, stepping gently forward. “I wish to serve you indeed.”

“You would serve me best, lady,” replied the girl, wringing herhands, “if you could take my life at once; for I have felt more grief tothink of what I am, to-night, than I ever did before, and it would be somethingnot to die in the hell in which I have lived. God bless you, sweet lady, andsend as much happiness on your head as I have brought shame on mine!”

Thus speaking, and sobbing aloud, the unhappy creature turned away; while RoseMaylie, overpowered by this extraordinary interview, which had more thesemblance of a rapid dream than an actual occurrence, sank into a chair, andendeavoured to collect her wandering thoughts.

Her situation was, indeed, one of no common trial and difficulty. While shefelt the most eager and burning desire to penetrate the mystery in whichOliver’s history was enveloped, she could not but hold sacred theconfidence which the miserable woman with whom she had just conversed, hadreposed in her, as a young and guileless girl. Her words and manner had touchedRose Maylie’s heart; and, mingled with her love for her young charge, andscarcely less intense in its truth and fervour, was her fond wish to win theoutcast back to repentance and hope.

They purposed remaining in London only three days, prior to departing for someweeks to a distant part of the coast. It was now midnight of the first day.What course of action could she determine upon, which could be adopted ineight-and-forty hours? Or how could she postpone the journey without excitingsuspicion?

Mr. Losberne was with them, and would be for the next two days; but Rose wastoo well acquainted with the excellent gentleman’s impetuosity, andforesaw too clearly the wrath with which, in the first explosion of hisindignation, he would regard the instrument of Oliver’s recapture, totrust him with the secret, when her representations in the girl’s behalfcould be seconded by no experienced person. These were all reasons for thegreatest caution and most circumspect behaviour in communicating it to Mrs.Maylie, whose first impulse would infallibly be to hold a conference with theworthy doctor on the subject. As to resorting to any legal adviser, even if shehad known how to do so, it was scarcely to be thought of, for the same reason.Once the thought occurred to her of seeking assistance from Harry; but thisawakened the recollection of their last parting, and it seemed unworthy of herto call him back, when—the tears rose to her eyes as she pursued thistrain of reflection—he might have by this time learnt to forget her, andto be happier away.

Disturbed by these different reflections; inclining now to one course and thento another, and again recoiling from all, as each successive considerationpresented itself to her mind; Rose passed a sleepless and anxious night. Aftermore communing with herself next day, she arrived at the desperate conclusionof consulting Harry.

“If it be painful to him,” she thought, “to come back here,how painful it will be to me! But perhaps he will not come; he may write, or hemay come himself, and studiously abstain from meeting me—he did when hewent away. I hardly thought he would; but it was better for us both.” Andhere Rose dropped the pen, and turned away, as though the very paper which wasto be her messenger should not see her weep.

She had taken up the same pen, and laid it down again fifty times, and hadconsidered and reconsidered the first line of her letter without writing thefirst word, when Oliver, who had been walking in the streets, with Mr. Gilesfor a body-guard, entered the room in such breathless haste and violentagitation, as seemed to betoken some new cause of alarm.

“What makes you look so flurried?” asked Rose, advancing to meethim.

“I hardly know how; I feel as if I should be choked,” replied theboy. “Oh dear! To think that I should see him at last, and you should beable to know that I have told you the truth!”

“I never thought you had told us anything but the truth,” saidRose, soothing him. “But what is this?—of whom do you speak?”

“I have seen the gentleman,” replied Oliver, scarcely able toarticulate, “the gentleman who was so good to me—Mr. Brownlow, thatwe have so often talked about.”

“Where?” asked Rose.

“Getting out of a coach,” replied Oliver, shedding tears ofdelight, “and going into a house. I didn’t speak to him—Icouldn’t speak to him, for he didn’t see me, and I trembled so,that I was not able to go up to him. But Giles asked, for me, whether he livedthere, and they said he did. Look here,” said Oliver, opening a scrap ofpaper, “here it is; here’s where he lives—I’m goingthere directly! Oh, dear me, dear me! What shall I do when I come to see himand hear him speak again!”

With her attention not a little distracted by these and a great many otherincoherent exclamations of joy, Rose read the address, which was Craven Street,in the Strand. She very soon determined upon turning the discovery to account.

“Quick!” she said. “Tell them to fetch a hackney-coach, andbe ready to go with me. I will take you there directly, without aminute’s loss of time. I will only tell my aunt that we are going out foran hour, and be ready as soon as you are.”

Oliver needed no prompting to despatch, and in little more than five minutesthey were on their way to Craven Street. When they arrived there, Rose leftOliver in the coach, under pretence of preparing the old gentleman to receivehim; and sending up her card by the servant, requested to see Mr. Brownlow onvery pressing business. The servant soon returned, to beg that she would walkupstairs; and following him into an upper room, Miss Maylie was presented to anelderly gentleman of benevolent appearance, in a bottle-green coat. At no greatdistance from whom, was seated another old gentleman, in nankeen breeches andgaiters; who did not look particularly benevolent, and who was sitting with hishands clasped on the top of a thick stick, and his chin propped thereupon.

“Dear me,” said the gentleman, in the bottle-green coat, hastilyrising with great politeness, “I beg your pardon, young lady—Iimagined it was some importunate person who—I beg you will excuse me. Beseated, pray.”

“Mr. Brownlow, I believe, sir?” said Rose, glancing from the othergentleman to the one who had spoken.

“That is my name,” said the old gentleman. “This is myfriend, Mr. Grimwig. Grimwig, will you leave us for a few minutes?”

“I believe,” interposed Miss Maylie, “that at this period ofour interview, I need not give that gentleman the trouble of going away. If Iam correctly informed, he is cognizant of the business on which I wish to speakto you.”

Mr. Brownlow inclined his head. Mr. Grimwig, who had made one very stiff bow,and risen from his chair, made another very stiff bow, and dropped into itagain.

“I shall surprise you very much, I have no doubt,” said Rose,naturally embarrassed; “but you once showed great benevolence andgoodness to a very dear young friend of mine, and I am sure you will take aninterest in hearing of him again.”

“Indeed!” said Mr. Brownlow.

“Oliver Twist you knew him as,” replied Rose.

The words no sooner escaped her lips, than Mr. Grimwig, who had been affectingto dip into a large book that lay on the table, upset it with a great crash,and falling back in his chair, discharged from his features every expressionbut one of unmitigated wonder, and indulged in a prolonged and vacant stare;then, as if ashamed of having betrayed so much emotion, he jerked himself, asit were, by a convulsion into his former attitude, and looking out straightbefore him emitted a long deep whistle, which seemed, at last, not to bedischarged on empty air, but to die away in the innermost recesses of hisstomach.

Mr. Browlow was no less surprised, although his astonishment was not expressedin the same eccentric manner. He drew his chair nearer to Miss Maylie’s,and said,

“Do me the favour, my dear young lady, to leave entirely out of thequestion that goodness and benevolence of which you speak, and of which nobodyelse knows anything; and if you have it in your power to produce any evidencewhich will alter the unfavourable opinion I was once induced to entertain ofthat poor child, in Heaven’s name put me in possession of it.”

“A bad one! I’ll eat my head if he is not a bad one,” growledMr. Grimwig, speaking by some ventriloquial power, without moving a muscle ofhis face.

“He is a child of a noble nature and a warm heart,” said Rose,colouring; “and that Power which has thought fit to try him beyond hisyears, has planted in his breast affections and feelings which would do honourto many who have numbered his days six times over.”

“I’m only sixty-one,” said Mr. Grimwig, with the same rigidface. “And, as the devil’s in it if this Oliver is not twelve yearsold at least, I don’t see the application of that remark.”

“Do not heed my friend, Miss Maylie,” said Mr. Brownlow; “hedoes not mean what he says.”

“Yes, he does,” growled Mr. Grimwig.

“No, he does not,” said Mr. Brownlow, obviously rising in wrath ashe spoke.

“He’ll eat his head, if he doesn’t,” growled Mr.Grimwig.

“He would deserve to have it knocked off, if he does,” said Mr.Brownlow.

“And he’d uncommonly like to see any man offer to do it,”responded Mr. Grimwig, knocking his stick upon the floor.

Having gone thus far, the two old gentlemen severally took snuff, andafterwards shook hands, according to their invariable custom.

“Now, Miss Maylie,” said Mr. Brownlow, “to return to thesubject in which your humanity is so much interested. Will you let me know whatintelligence you have of this poor child: allowing me to promise that Iexhausted every means in my power of discovering him, and that since I havebeen absent from this country, my first impression that he had imposed upon me,and had been persuaded by his former associates to rob me, has beenconsiderably shaken.”

Rose, who had had time to collect her thoughts, at once related, in a fewnatural words, all that had befallen Oliver since he left Mr. Brownlow’shouse; reserving Nancy’s information for that gentleman’s privateear, and concluding with the assurance that his only sorrow, for some monthspast, had been not being able to meet with his former benefactor and friend.

“Thank God!” said the old gentleman. “This is great happinessto me, great happiness. But you have not told me where he is now, Miss Maylie.You must pardon my finding fault with you,—but why not have broughthim?”

“He is waiting in a coach at the door,” replied Rose.

“At this door!” cried the old gentleman. With which he hurried outof the room, down the stairs, up the coachsteps, and into the coach, withoutanother word.

When the room-door closed behind him, Mr. Grimwig lifted up his head, andconverting one of the hind legs of his chair into a pivot, described threedistinct circles with the assistance of his stick and the table; sitting in itall the time. After performing this evolution, he rose and limped as fast as hecould up and down the room at least a dozen times, and then stopping suddenlybefore Rose, kissed her without the slightest preface.

“Hush!” he said, as the young lady rose in some alarm at thisunusual proceeding. “Don’t be afraid. I’m old enough to beyour grandfather. You’re a sweet girl. I like you. Here they are!”

In fact, as he threw himself at one dexterous dive into his former seat, Mr.Brownlow returned, accompanied by Oliver, whom Mr. Grimwig received verygraciously; and if the gratification of that moment had been the only rewardfor all her anxiety and care in Oliver’s behalf, Rose Maylie would havebeen well repaid.

“There is somebody else who should not be forgotten, by the bye,”said Mr. Brownlow, ringing the bell. “Send Mrs. Bedwin here, if youplease.”

The old housekeeper answered the summons with all dispatch; and dropping acurtsey at the door, waited for orders.

“Why, you get blinder every day, Bedwin,” said Mr. Brownlow, rathertestily.

“Well, that I do, sir,” replied the old lady. “People’seyes, at my time of life, don’t improve with age, sir.”

“I could have told you that,” rejoined Mr. Brownlow; “but puton your glasses, and see if you can’t find out what you were wanted for,will you?”

The old lady began to rummage in her pocket for her spectacles. ButOliver’s patience was not proof against this new trial; and yielding tohis first impulse, he sprang into her arms.

“God be good to me!” cried the old lady, embracing him; “itis my innocent boy!”

“My dear old nurse!” cried Oliver.

“He would come back—I knew he would,” said the old lady,holding him in her arms. “How well he looks, and how like agentleman’s son he is dressed again! Where have you been, this long, longwhile? Ah! the same sweet face, but not so pale; the same soft eye, but not sosad. I have never forgotten them or his quiet smile, but have seen them everyday, side by side with those of my own dear children, dead and gone since I wasa lightsome young creature.” Running on thus, and now holding Oliver fromher to mark how he had grown, now clasping him to her and passing her fingersfondly through his hair, the good soul laughed and wept upon his neck by turns.

Leaving her and Oliver to compare notes at leisure, Mr. Brownlow led the wayinto another room; and there, heard from Rose a full narration of her interviewwith Nancy, which occasioned him no little surprise and perplexity. Rose alsoexplained her reasons for not confiding in her friend Mr. Losberne in the firstinstance. The old gentleman considered that she had acted prudently, andreadily undertook to hold solemn conference with the worthy doctor himself. Toafford him an early opportunity for the execution of this design, it wasarranged that he should call at the hotel at eight o’clock that evening,and that in the meantime Mrs. Maylie should be cautiously informed of all thathad occurred. These preliminaries adjusted, Rose and Oliver returned home.

Rose had by no means overrated the measure of the good doctor’s wrath.Nancy’s history was no sooner unfolded to him, than he poured forth ashower of mingled threats and execrations; threatened to make her the firstvictim of the combined ingenuity of Messrs. Blathers and Duff; and actually puton his hat preparatory to sallying forth to obtain the assistance of thoseworthies. And, doubtless, he would, in this first outbreak, have carried theintention into effect without a moment’s consideration of theconsequences, if he had not been restrained, in part, by corresponding violenceon the side of Mr. Brownlow, who was himself of an irascible temperament, andparty by such arguments and representations as seemed best calculated todissuade him from his hotbrained purpose.

“Then what the devil is to be done?” said the impetuous doctor,when they had rejoined the two ladies. “Are we to pass a vote of thanksto all these vagabonds, male and female, and beg them to accept a hundredpounds, or so, apiece, as a trifling mark of our esteem, and some slightacknowledgment of their kindness to Oliver?”

“Not exactly that,” rejoined Mr. Brownlow, laughing; “but wemust proceed gently and with great care.”

“Gentleness and care,” exclaimed the doctor. “I’d sendthem one and all to—”

“Never mind where,” interposed Mr. Brownlow. “But reflectwhether sending them anywhere is likely to attain the object we have inview.”

“What object?” asked the doctor.

“Simply, the discovery of Oliver’s parentage, and regaining for himthe inheritance of which, if this story be true, he has been fraudulentlydeprived.”

“Ah!” said Mr. Losberne, cooling himself with hispocket-handkerchief; “I almost forgot that.”

“You see,” pursued Mr. Brownlow; “placing this poor girlentirely out of the question, and supposing it were possible to bring thesescoundrels to justice without compromising her safety, what good should webring about?”

“Hanging a few of them at least, in all probability,” suggested thedoctor, “and transporting the rest.”

“Very good,” replied Mr. Brownlow, smiling; “but no doubtthey will bring that about for themselves in the fulness of time, and if westep in to forestall them, it seems to me that we shall be performing a veryQuixotic act, in direct opposition to our own interest—or at least toOliver’s, which is the same thing.”

“How?” inquired the doctor.

“Thus. It is quite clear that we shall have extreme difficulty in gettingto the bottom of this mystery, unless we can bring this man, Monks, upon hisknees. That can only be done by stratagem, and by catching him when he is notsurrounded by these people. For, suppose he were apprehended, we have no proofagainst him. He is not even (so far as we know, or as the facts appear to us)concerned with the gang in any of their robberies. If he were not discharged,it is very unlikely that he could receive any further punishment than beingcommitted to prison as a rogue and vagabond; and of course ever afterwards hismouth would be so obstinately closed that he might as well, for our purposes,be deaf, dumb, blind, and an idiot.”

“Then,” said the doctor impetuously, “I put it to you again,whether you think it reasonable that this promise to the girl should beconsidered binding; a promise made with the best and kindest intentions, butreally—”

“Do not discuss the point, my dear young lady, pray,” said Mr.Brownlow, interrupting Rose as she was about to speak. “The promise shallbe kept. I don’t think it will, in the slightest degree, interfere withour proceedings. But, before we can resolve upon any precise course of action,it will be necessary to see the girl; to ascertain from her whether she willpoint out this Monks, on the understanding that he is to be dealt with by us,and not by the law; or, if she will not, or cannot do that, to procure from hersuch an account of his haunts and description of his person, as will enable usto identify him. She cannot be seen until next Sunday night; this is Tuesday. Iwould suggest that in the meantime, we remain perfectly quiet, and keep thesematters secret even from Oliver himself.”

Although Mr. Losberne received with many wry faces a proposal involving a delayof five whole days, he was fain to admit that no better course occurred to himjust then; and as both Rose and Mrs. Maylie sided very strongly with Mr.Brownlow, that gentleman’s proposition was carried unanimously.

“I should like,” he said, “to call in the aid of my friendGrimwig. He is a strange creature, but a shrewd one, and might prove ofmaterial assistance to us; I should say that he was bred a lawyer, and quittedthe Bar in disgust because he had only one brief and a motion of course, intwenty years, though whether that is recommendation or not, you must determinefor yourselves.”

“I have no objection to your calling in your friend if I may call inmine,” said the doctor.

“We must put it to the vote,” replied Mr. Brownlow, “who mayhe be?”

“That lady’s son, and this young lady’s—very oldfriend,” said the doctor, motioning towards Mrs. Maylie, and concludingwith an expressive glance at her niece.

Rose blushed deeply, but she did not make any audible objection to this motion(possibly she felt in a hopeless minority); and Harry Maylie and Mr. Grimwigwere accordingly added to the committee.

“We stay in town, of course,” said Mrs. Maylie, “while thereremains the slightest prospect of prosecuting this inquiry with a chance ofsuccess. I will spare neither trouble nor expense in behalf of the object inwhich we are all so deeply interested, and I am content to remain here, if itbe for twelve months, so long as you assure me that any hope remains.”

“Good!” rejoined Mr. Brownlow. “And as I see on the facesabout me, a disposition to inquire how it happened that I was not in the way tocorroborate Oliver’s tale, and had so suddenly left the kingdom, let mestipulate that I shall be asked no questions until such time as I may deem itexpedient to forestall them by telling my own story. Believe me, I make thisrequest with good reason, for I might otherwise excite hopes destined never tobe realised, and only increase difficulties and disappointments already quitenumerous enough. Come! Supper has been announced, and young Oliver, who is allalone in the next room, will have begun to think, by this time, that we havewearied of his company, and entered into some dark conspiracy to thrust himforth upon the world.”

With these words, the old gentleman gave his hand to Mrs. Maylie, and escortedher into the supper-room. Mr. Losberne followed, leading Rose; and the councilwas, for the present, effectually broken up.

Upon the night when Nancy, having lulled Mr. Sikes to sleep, hurried on herself-imposed mission to Rose Maylie, there advanced towards London, by theGreat North Road, two persons, upon whom it is expedient that this historyshould bestow some attention.

They were a man and woman; or perhaps they would be better described as a maleand female: for the former was one of those long-limbed, knock-kneed,shambling, bony people, to whom it is difficult to assign any preciseage,—looking as they do, when they are yet boys, like undergrown men, andwhen they are almost men, like overgrown boys. The woman was young, but of arobust and hardy make, as she need have been to bear the weight of the heavybundle which was strapped to her back. Her companion was not encumbered withmuch luggage, as there merely dangled from a stick which he carried over hisshoulder, a small parcel wrapped in a common handkerchief, and apparently lightenough. This circumstance, added to the length of his legs, which were ofunusual extent, enabled him with much ease to keep some half-dozen paces inadvance of his companion, to whom he occasionally turned with an impatient jerkof the head: as if reproaching her tardiness, and urging her to greaterexertion.

Thus, they had toiled along the dusty road, taking little heed of any objectwithin sight, save when they stepped aside to allow a wider passage for themail-coaches which were whirling out of town, until they passed throughHighgate archway; when the foremost traveller stopped and called impatiently tohis companion,

“Come on, can’t yer? What a lazybones yer are, Charlotte.”

“It’s a heavy load, I can tell you,” said the female, comingup, almost breathless with fatigue.

“Heavy! What are yer talking about? What are yer made for?”rejoined the male traveller, changing his own little bundle as he spoke, to theother shoulder. “Oh, there yer are, resting again! Well, if yerain’t enough to tire anybody’s patience out, I don’t knowwhat is!”

“Is it much farther?” asked the woman, resting herself against abank, and looking up with the perspiration streaming from her face.

“Much farther! Yer as good as there,” said the long-legged tramper,pointing out before him. “Look there! Those are the lights ofLondon.”

“They’re a good two mile off, at least,” said the womandespondingly.

“Never mind whether they’re two mile off, or twenty,” saidNoah Claypole; for he it was; “but get up and come on, or I’ll kickyer, and so I give yer notice.”

As Noah’s red nose grew redder with anger, and as he crossed the roadwhile speaking, as if fully prepared to put his threat into execution, thewoman rose without any further remark, and trudged onward by his side.

“Where do you mean to stop for the night, Noah?” she asked, afterthey had walked a few hundred yards.

“How should I know?” replied Noah, whose temper had beenconsiderably impaired by walking.

“Near, I hope,” said Charlotte.

“No, not near,” replied Mr. Claypole. “There! Not near; sodon’t think it.”

“Why not?”

“When I tell yer that I don’t mean to do a thing, that’senough, without any why or because either,” replied Mr. Claypole withdignity.

“Well, you needn’t be so cross,” said his companion.

“A pretty thing it would be, wouldn’t it to go and stop at the veryfirst public-house outside the town, so that Sowerberry, if he come up afterus, might poke in his old nose, and have us taken back in a cart with handcuffson,” said Mr. Claypole in a jeering tone. “No! I shall go and losemyself among the narrowest streets I can find, and not stop till we come to thevery out-of-the-wayest house I can set eyes on. “Cod, yer may thanks yerstars I’ve got a head; for if we hadn’t gone, at first, the wrongroad a purpose, and come back across country, yer’d have been locked uphard and fast a week ago, my lady. And serve yer right for being a fool.”

“I know I ain’t as cunning as you are,” replied Charlotte;“but don’t put all the blame on me, and say I should have beenlocked up. You would have been if I had been, any way.”

“Yer took the money from the till, yer know yer did,” said Mr.Claypole.

“I took it for you, Noah, dear,” rejoined Charlotte.

“Did I keep it?” asked Mr. Claypole.

“No; you trusted in me, and let me carry it like a dear, and so youare,” said the lady, chucking him under the chin, and drawing her armthrough his.

This was indeed the case; but as it was not Mr. Claypole’s habit torepose a blind and foolish confidence in anybody, it should be observed, injustice to that gentleman, that he had trusted Charlotte to this extent, inorder that, if they were pursued, the money might be found on her: which wouldleave him an opportunity of asserting his innocence of any theft, and wouldgreatly facilitate his chances of escape. Of course, he entered at thisjuncture, into no explanation of his motives, and they walked on very lovinglytogether.

In pursuance of this cautious plan, Mr. Claypole went on, without halting,until he arrived at the Angel at Islington, where he wisely judged, from thecrowd of passengers and numbers of vehicles, that London began in earnest. Justpausing to observe which appeared the most crowded streets, and consequentlythe most to be avoided, he crossed into Saint John’s Road, and was soondeep in the obscurity of the intricate and dirty ways, which, lying betweenGray’s Inn Lane and Smithfield, render that part of the town one of thelowest and worst that improvement has left in the midst of London.

Through these streets, Noah Claypole walked, dragging Charlotte after him; nowstepping into the kennel to embrace at a glance the whole external character ofsome small public-house; now jogging on again, as some fancied appearanceinduced him to believe it too public for his purpose. At length, he stopped infront of one, more humble in appearance and more dirty than any he had yetseen; and, having crossed over and surveyed it from the opposite pavement,graciously announced his intention of putting up there, for the night.

“So give us the bundle,” said Noah, unstrapping it from thewoman’s shoulders, and slinging it over his own; “and don’tyer speak, except when yer spoke to. What’s the name of thehouse—t-h-r—three what?”

“Cripples,” said Charlotte.

“Three Cripples,” repeated Noah, “and a very good sign too.Now, then! Keep close at my heels, and come along.” With theseinjunctions, he pushed the rattling door with his shoulder, and entered thehouse, followed by his companion.

There was nobody in the bar but a young Jew, who, with his two elbows on thecounter, was reading a dirty newspaper. He stared very hard at Noah, and Noahstared very hard at him.

If Noah had been attired in his charity-boy’s dress, there might havebeen some reason for the Jew opening his eyes so wide; but as he had discardedthe coat and badge, and wore a short smock-frock over his leathers, thereseemed no particular reason for his appearance exciting so much attention in apublic-house.

“Is this the Three Cripples?” asked Noah.

“That is the dabe of this ’ouse,” replied the Jew.

“A gentleman we met on the road, coming up from the country, recommendedus here,” said Noah, nudging Charlotte, perhaps to call her attention tothis most ingenious device for attracting respect, and perhaps to warn her tobetray no surprise. “We want to sleep here to-night.”

“I’b dot certaid you cad,” said Barney, who was the attendantsprite; “but I’ll idquire.”

“Show us the tap, and give us a bit of cold meat and a drop of beer whileyer inquiring, will yer?” said Noah.

Barney complied by ushering them into a small back-room, and setting therequired viands before them; having done which, he informed the travellers thatthey could be lodged that night, and left the amiable couple to theirrefreshment.

Now, this back-room was immediately behind the bar, and some steps lower, sothat any person connected with the house, undrawing a small curtain whichconcealed a single pane of glass fixed in the wall of the last-named apartment,about five feet from its flooring, could not only look down upon any guests inthe back-room without any great hazard of being observed (the glass being in adark angle of the wall, between which and a large upright beam the observer hadto thrust himself), but could, by applying his ear to the partition, ascertainwith tolerable distinctness, their subject of conversation. The landlord of thehouse had not withdrawn his eye from this place of espial for five minutes, andBarney had only just returned from making the communication above related, whenFagin, in the course of his evening’s business, came into the bar toinquire after some of his young pupils.

“Hush!” said Barney: “stradegers id the next roob.”

“Strangers!” repeated the old man in a whisper.

“Ah! Ad rub uds too,” added Barney. “Frob the cuttry, butsubthig in your way, or I’b bistaked.”

Fagin appeared to receive this communication with great interest.

Mounting a stool, he cautiously applied his eye to the pane of glass, fromwhich secret post he could see Mr. Claypole taking cold beef from the dish, andporter from the pot, and administering homeopathic doses of both to Charlotte,who sat patiently by, eating and drinking at his pleasure.

“Aha!” he whispered, looking round to Barney, “I like thatfellow’s looks. He’d be of use to us; he knows how to train thegirl already. Don’t make as much noise as a mouse, my dear, and let mehear ’em talk—let me hear ’em.”

He again applied his eye to the glass, and turning his ear to the partition,listened attentively: with a subtle and eager look upon his face, that mighthave appertained to some old goblin.

“So I mean to be a gentleman,” said Mr. Claypole, kicking out hislegs, and continuing a conversation, the commencement of which Fagin hadarrived too late to hear. “No more jolly old coffins, Charlotte, but agentleman’s life for me: and, if yer like, yer shall be a lady.”

“I should like that well enough, dear,” replied Charlotte;“but tills ain’t to be emptied every day, and people to get clearoff after it.”

“Tills be blowed!” said Mr. Claypole; “there’s morethings besides tills to be emptied.”

“What do you mean?” asked his companion.

“Pockets, women’s ridicules, houses, mail-coaches, banks!”said Mr. Claypole, rising with the porter.

“But you can’t do all that, dear,” said Charlotte.

“I shall look out to get into company with them as can,” repliedNoah. “They’ll be able to make us useful some way or another. Why,you yourself are worth fifty women; I never see such a precious sly anddeceitful creetur as yer can be when I let yer.”

“Lor, how nice it is to hear yer say so!” exclaimed Charlotte,imprinting a kiss upon his ugly face.

“There, that’ll do: don’t yer be too affectionate, in caseI’m cross with yer,” said Noah, disengaging himself with greatgravity. “I should like to be the captain of some band, and have thewhopping of ’em, and follering ’em about, unbeknown to themselves.That would suit me, if there was good profit; and if we could only get in withsome gentleman of this sort, I say it would be cheap at that twenty-pound noteyou’ve got,—especially as we don’t very well know how to getrid of it ourselves.”

After expressing this opinion, Mr. Claypole looked into the porter-pot with anaspect of deep wisdom; and having well shaken its contents, noddedcondescendingly to Charlotte, and took a draught, wherewith he appeared greatlyrefreshed. He was meditating another, when the sudden opening of the door, andthe appearance of a stranger, interrupted him.

The stranger was Mr. Fagin. And very amiable he looked, and a very low bow hemade, as he advanced, and setting himself down at the nearest table, orderedsomething to drink of the grinning Barney.

“A pleasant night, sir, but cool for the time of year,” said Fagin,rubbing his hands. “From the country, I see, sir?”

“How do yer see that?” asked Noah Claypole.

“We have not so much dust as that in London,” replied Fagin,pointing from Noah’s shoes to those of his companion, and from them tothe two bundles.

“Yer a sharp feller,” said Noah. “Ha! ha! only hear that,Charlotte!”

“Why, one need be sharp in this town, my dear,” replied the Jew,sinking his voice to a confidential whisper; “and that’s thetruth.”

Fagin followed up this remark by striking the side of his nose with his rightforefinger,—a gesture which Noah attempted to imitate, though not withcomplete success, in consequence of his own nose not being large enough for thepurpose. However, Mr. Fagin seemed to interpret the endeavour as expressing aperfect coincidence with his opinion, and put about the liquor which Barneyreappeared with, in a very friendly manner.

“Good stuff that,” observed Mr. Claypole, smacking his lips.

“Dear!” said Fagin. “A man need be always emptying a till, ora pocket, or a woman’s reticule, or a house, or a mail-coach, or a bank,if he drinks it regularly.”

Mr. Claypole no sooner heard this extract from his own remarks than he fellback in his chair, and looked from the Jew to Charlotte with a countenance ofashy paleness and excessive terror.

“Don’t mind me, my dear,” said Fagin, drawing his chaircloser. “Ha! ha! it was lucky it was only me that heard you by chance. Itwas very lucky it was only me.”

“I didn’t take it,” stammered Noah, no longer stretching outhis legs like an independent gentleman, but coiling them up as well as he couldunder his chair; “it was all her doing; yer’ve got it now,Charlotte, yer know yer have.”

“No matter who’s got it, or who did it, my dear,” repliedFagin, glancing, nevertheless, with a hawk’s eye at the girl and the twobundles. “I’m in that way myself, and I like you for it.”

“In what way?” asked Mr. Claypole, a little recovering.

“In that way of business,” rejoined Fagin; “and so are thepeople of the house. You’ve hit the right nail upon the head, and are assafe here as you could be. There is not a safer place in all this town than isthe Cripples; that is, when I like to make it so. And I have taken a fancy toyou and the young woman; so I’ve said the word, and you may make yourminds easy.”

Noah Claypole’s mind might have been at ease after this assurance, buthis body certainly was not; for he shuffled and writhed about, into variousuncouth positions: eyeing his new friend meanwhile with mingled fear andsuspicion.

“I’ll tell you more,” said Fagin, after he had reassured thegirl, by dint of friendly nods and muttered encouragements. “I have got afriend that I think can gratify your darling wish, and put you in the rightway, where you can take whatever department of the business you think will suityou best at first, and be taught all the others.”

“Yer speak as if yer were in earnest,” replied Noah.

“What advantage would it be to me to be anything else?” inquiredFagin, shrugging his shoulders. “Here! Let me have a word with yououtside.”

“There’s no occasion to trouble ourselves to move,” saidNoah, getting his legs by gradual degrees abroad again. “She’lltake the luggage upstairs the while. Charlotte, see to them bundles.”

This mandate, which had been delivered with great majesty, was obeyed withoutthe slightest demur; and Charlotte made the best of her way off with thepackages while Noah held the door open and watched her out.

“She’s kept tolerably well under, ain’t she?” he askedas he resumed his seat: in the tone of a keeper who had tamed some wild animal.

“Quite perfect,” rejoined Fagin, clapping him on the shoulder.“You’re a genius, my dear.”

“Why, I suppose if I wasn’t, I shouldn’t be here,”replied Noah. “But, I say, she’ll be back if yer lose time.”

“Now, what do you think?” said Fagin. “If you was to like myfriend, could you do better than join him?”

“Is he in a good way of business; that’s where it is!”responded Noah, winking one of his little eyes.

“The top of the tree; employs a power of hands; has the very best societyin the profession.”

“Regular town-maders?” asked Mr. Claypole.

“Not a countryman among ’em; and I don’t think he’dtake you, even on my recommendation, if he didn’t run rather short ofassistants just now,” replied Fagin.

“Should I have to hand over?” said Noah, slapping hisbreeches-pocket.

“It couldn’t possibly be done without,” replied Fagin, in amost decided manner.

“Twenty pound, though—it’s a lot of money!”

“Not when it’s in a note you can’t get rid of,”retorted Fagin. “Number and date taken, I suppose? Payment stopped at theBank? Ah! It’s not worth much to him. It’ll have to go abroad, andhe couldn’t sell it for a great deal in the market.”

“When could I see him?” asked Noah doubtfully.

“To-morrow morning.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

“Um!” said Noah. “What’s the wages?”

“Live like a gentleman—board and lodging, pipes and spiritsfree—half of all you earn, and half of all the young woman earns,”replied Mr. Fagin.

Whether Noah Claypole, whose rapacity was none of the least comprehensive,would have acceded even to these glowing terms, had he been a perfectly freeagent, is very doubtful; but as he recollected that, in the event of hisrefusal, it was in the power of his new acquaintance to give him up to justiceimmediately (and more unlikely things had come to pass), he gradually relented,and said he thought that would suit him.

“But, yer see,” observed Noah, “as she will be able to do agood deal, I should like to take something very light.”

“A little fancy work?” suggested Fagin.

“Ah! something of that sort,” replied Noah. “What do youthink would suit me now? Something not too trying for the strength, and notvery dangerous, you know. That’s the sort of thing!”

“I heard you talk of something in the spy way upon the others, mydear,” said Fagin. “My friend wants somebody who would do thatwell, very much.”

“Why, I did mention that, and I shouldn’t mind turning my hand toit sometimes,” rejoined Mr. Claypole slowly; “but it wouldn’tpay by itself, you know.”

“That’s true!” observed the Jew, ruminating or pretending toruminate. “No, it might not.”

“What do you think, then?” asked Noah, anxiously regarding him.“Something in the sneaking way, where it was pretty sure work, and notmuch more risk than being at home.”

“What do you think of the old ladies?” asked Fagin.“There’s a good deal of money made in snatching their bags andparcels, and running round the corner.”

“Don’t they holler out a good deal, and scratch sometimes?”asked Noah, shaking his head. “I don’t think that would answer mypurpose. Ain’t there any other line open?”

“Stop!” said Fagin, laying his hand on Noah’s knee.“The kinchin lay.”

“What’s that?” demanded Mr. Claypole.

“The kinchins, my dear,” said Fagin, “is the young childrenthat’s sent on errands by their mothers, with sixpences and shillings;and the lay is just to take their money away—they’ve always got itready in their hands,—then knock ’em into the kennel, and walk offvery slow, as if there were nothing else the matter but a child fallen down andhurt itself. Ha! ha! ha!”

“Ha! ha!” roared Mr. Claypole, kicking up his legs in an ecstasy.“Lord, that’s the very thing!”

“To be sure it is,” replied Fagin; “and you can have a fewgood beats chalked out in Camden Town, and Battle Bridge, and neighborhoodslike that, where they’re always going errands; and you can upset as manykinchins as you want, any hour in the day. Ha! ha! ha!”

With this, Fagin poked Mr. Claypole in the side, and they joined in a burst oflaughter both long and loud.

“Well, that’s all right!” said Noah, when he had recoveredhimself, and Charlotte had returned. “What time to-morrow shall wesay?”

“Will ten do?” asked Fagin, adding, as Mr. Claypole nodded assent,“What name shall I tell my good friend.”

“Mr. Bolter,” replied Noah, who had prepared himself for suchemergency. “Mr. Morris Bolter. This is Mrs. Bolter.”

“Mrs. Bolter’s humble servant,” said Fagin, bowing withgrotesque politeness. “I hope I shall know her better veryshortly.”

“Do you hear the gentleman, Charlotte?” thundered Mr. Claypole.

“Yes, Noah, dear!” replied Mrs. Bolter, extending her hand.

“She calls me Noah, as a sort of fond way of talking,” said Mr.Morris Bolter, late Claypole, turning to Fagin. “You understand?”

“Oh yes, I understand—perfectly,” replied Fagin, telling thetruth for once. “Good-night! Good-night!”

With many adieus and good wishes, Mr. Fagin went his way. Noah Claypole,bespeaking his good lady’s attention, proceeded to enlighten her relativeto the arrangement he had made, with all that haughtiness and air ofsuperiority, becoming, not only a member of the sterner sex, but a gentlemanwho appreciated the dignity of a special appointment on the kinchin lay, inLondon and its vicinity.

“And so it was you that was your own friend, was it?” asked Mr.Claypole, otherwise Bolter, when, by virtue of the compact entered into betweenthem, he had removed next day to Fagin’s house. “Cod, I thought asmuch last night!”

“Every man’s his own friend, my dear,” replied Fagin, withhis most insinuating grin. “He hasn’t as good a one as himselfanywhere.”

“Except sometimes,” replied Morris Bolter, assuming the air of aman of the world. “Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own,yer know.”

“Don’t believe that,” said Fagin. “When a man’shis own enemy, it’s only because he’s too much his own friend; notbecause he’s careful for everybody but himself. Pooh! pooh! Thereain’t such a thing in nature.”

“There oughn’t to be, if there is,” replied Mr. Bolter.

“That stands to reason. Some conjurers say that number three is the magicnumber, and some say number seven. It’s neither, my friend, neither.It’s number one.

“Ha! ha!” cried Mr. Bolter. “Number one for ever.”

“In a little community like ours, my dear,” said Fagin, who felt itnecessary to qualify this position, “we have a general number one,without considering me too as the same, and all the other young people.”

“Oh, the devil!” exclaimed Mr. Bolter.

“You see,” pursued Fagin, affecting to disregard this interruption,“we are so mixed up together, and identified in our interests, that itmust be so. For instance, it’s your object to take care of numberone—meaning yourself.”

“Certainly,” replied Mr. Bolter. “Yer about rightthere.”

“Well! You can’t take care of yourself, number one, without takingcare of me, number one.”

“Number two, you mean,” said Mr. Bolter, who was largely endowedwith the quality of selfishness.

“No, I don’t!” retorted Fagin. “I’m of the sameimportance to you, as you are to yourself.”

“I say,” interrupted Mr. Bolter, “yer a very nice man, andI’m very fond of yer; but we ain’t quite so thick together, as allthat comes to.”

“Only think,” said Fagin, shrugging his shoulders, and stretchingout his hands; “only consider. You’ve done what’s a verypretty thing, and what I love you for doing; but what at the same time wouldput the cravat round your throat, that’s so very easily tied and so verydifficult to unloose—in plain English, the halter!”

Mr. Bolter put his hand to his neckerchief, as if he felt it inconvenientlytight; and murmured an assent, qualified in tone but not in substance.

“The gallows,” continued Fagin, “the gallows, my dear, is anugly finger-post, which points out a very short and sharp turning that hasstopped many a bold fellow’s career on the broad highway. To keep in theeasy road, and keep it at a distance, is object number one with you.”

“Of course it is,” replied Mr. Bolter. “What do yer talkabout such things for?”

“Only to show you my meaning clearly,” said the Jew, raising hiseyebrows. “To be able to do that, you depend upon me. To keep my littlebusiness all snug, I depend upon you. The first is your number one, the secondmy number one. The more you value your number one, the more careful you must beof mine; so we come at last to what I told you at first—that a regard fornumber one holds us all together, and must do so, unless we would all go topieces in company.”

“That’s true,” rejoined Mr. Bolter, thoughtfully. “Oh!yer a cunning old codger!”

Mr. Fagin saw, with delight, that this tribute to his powers was no merecompliment, but that he had really impressed his recruit with a sense of hiswily genius, which it was most important that he should entertain in the outsetof their acquaintance. To strengthen an impression so desirable and useful, hefollowed up the blow by acquainting him, in some detail, with the magnitude andextent of his operations; blending truth and fiction together, as best servedhis purpose; and bringing both to bear, with so much art, that Mr.Bolter’s respect visibly increased, and became tempered, at the sametime, with a degree of wholesome fear, which it was highly desirable to awaken.

“It’s this mutual trust we have in each other that consoles meunder heavy losses,” said Fagin. “My best hand was taken from me,yesterday morning.”

“You don’t mean to say he died?” cried Mr. Bolter.

“No, no,” replied Fagin, “not so bad as that. Not quite sobad.”

“What, I suppose he was—”

“Wanted,” interposed Fagin. “Yes, he was wanted.”

“Very particular?” inquired Mr. Bolter.

“No,” replied Fagin, “not very. He was charged withattempting to pick a pocket, and they found a silver snuff-box onhim,—his own, my dear, his own, for he took snuff himself, and was veryfond of it. They remanded him till to-day, for they thought they knew theowner. Ah! he was worth fifty boxes, and I’d give the price of as many tohave him back. You should have known the Dodger, my dear; you should have knownthe Dodger.”

“Well, but I shall know him, I hope; don’t yer think so?”said Mr. Bolter.

“I’m doubtful about it,” replied Fagin, with a sigh.“If they don’t get any fresh evidence, it’ll only be asummary conviction, and we shall have him back again after six weeks or so;but, if they do, it’s a case of lagging. They know what a clever lad heis; he’ll be a lifer. They’ll make the Artful nothing less than alifer.”

“What do you mean by lagging and a lifer?” demanded Mr. Bolter.“What’s the good of talking in that way to me; why don’t yerspeak so as I can understand yer?”

Fagin was about to translate these mysterious expressions into the vulgartongue; and, being interpreted, Mr. Bolter would have been informed that theyrepresented that combination of words, “transportation for life,”when the dialogue was cut short by the entry of Master Bates, with his hands inhis breeches-pockets, and his face twisted into a look of semi-comical woe.

“It’s all up, Fagin,” said Charley, when he and his newcompanion had been made known to each other.

“What do you mean?”

“They’ve found the gentleman as owns the box; two or threemore’s a coming to ’dentify him; and the Artful’s booked fora passage out,” replied Master Bates. “I must have a full suit ofmourning, Fagin, and a hatband, to wisit him in, afore he sets out upon histravels. To think of Jack Dawkins—lummy Jack—the Dodger—theArtful Dodger—going abroad for a common twopenny-halfpenny sneeze-box! Inever thought he’d a done it under a gold watch, chain, and seals, at thelowest. Oh, why didn’t he rob some rich old gentleman of all hiswalables, and go out as a gentleman, and not like a common prig, without nohonour nor glory!”

With this expression of feeling for his unfortunate friend, Master Bates sathimself on the nearest chair with an aspect of chagrin and despondency.

“What do you talk about his having neither honour nor glory for!”exclaimed Fagin, darting an angry look at his pupil. “Wasn’t healways the top-sawyer among you all! Is there one of you that could touch himor come near him on any scent! Eh?”

“Not one,” replied Master Bates, in a voice rendered husky byregret; “not one.”

“Then what do you talk of?” replied Fagin angrily; “what areyou blubbering for?”

“’Cause it isn’t on the rec-ord, is it?” said Charley,chafed into perfect defiance of his venerable friend by the current of hisregrets; “’cause it can’t come out in the ’dictment;’cause nobody will never know half of what he was. How will he stand inthe Newgate Calendar? P’raps not be there at all. Oh, my eye, my eye, wota blow it is!”

“Ha! ha!” cried Fagin, extending his right hand, and turning to Mr.Bolter in a fit of chuckling which shook him as though he had the palsy;“see what a pride they take in their profession, my dear. Ain’t itbeautiful?”

Mr. Bolter nodded assent, and Fagin, after contemplating the grief of CharleyBates for some seconds with evident satisfaction, stepped up to that younggentleman and patted him on the shoulder.

“Never mind, Charley,” said Fagin soothingly; “it’llcome out, it’ll be sure to come out. They’ll all know what a cleverfellow he was; he’ll show it himself, and not disgrace his old pals andteachers. Think how young he is too! What a distinction, Charley, to be laggedat his time of life!”

“Well, it is a honour that is!” said Charley, a little consoled.

“He shall have all he wants,” continued the Jew. “He shall bekept in the Stone Jug, Charley, like a gentleman. Like a gentleman! With hisbeer every day, and money in his pocket to pitch and toss with, if hecan’t spend it.”

“No, shall he though?” cried Charley Bates.

“Ay, that he shall,” replied Fagin, “and we’ll have abig-wig, Charley: one that’s got the greatest gift of the gab: to carryon his defence; and he shall make a speech for himself too, if he likes; andwe’ll read it all in the papers—‘Artful Dodger—shrieksof laughter—here the court was convulsed’—eh, Charley,eh?”

“Ha! ha!” laughed Master Bates, “what a lark that would be,wouldn’t it, Fagin? I say, how the Artful would bother ’emwouldn’t he?”

“Would!” cried Fagin. “He shall—he will!”

“Ah, to be sure, so he will,” repeated Charley, rubbing his hands.

“I think I see him now,” cried the Jew, bending his eyes upon hispupil.

“So do I,” cried Charley Bates. “Ha! ha! ha! so do I. I seeit all afore me, upon my soul I do, Fagin. What a game! What a regular game!All the big-wigs trying to look solemn, and Jack Dawkins addressing of’em as intimate and comfortable as if he was the judge’s own sonmaking a speech arter dinner—ha! ha! ha!”

In fact, Mr. Fagin had so well humoured his young friend’s eccentricdisposition, that Master Bates, who had at first been disposed to consider theimprisoned Dodger rather in the light of a victim, now looked upon him as thechief actor in a scene of most uncommon and exquisite humour, and felt quiteimpatient for the arrival of the time when his old companion should have sofavourable an opportunity of displaying his abilities.

“We must know how he gets on to-day, by some handy means or other,”said Fagin. “Let me think.”

“Shall I go?” asked Charley.

“Not for the world,” replied Fagin. “Are you mad, my dear,stark mad, that you’d walk into the very place where—No, Charley,no. One is enough to lose at a time.”

“You don’t mean to go yourself, I suppose?” said Charley witha humorous leer.

“That wouldn’t quite fit,” replied Fagin shaking his head.

“Then why don’t you send this new cove?” asked Master Bates,laying his hand on Noah’s arm. “Nobody knows him.”

“Why, if he didn’t mind—” observed Fagin.

“Mind!” interposed Charley. “What should he have tomind?”

“Really nothing, my dear,” said Fagin, turning to Mr. Bolter,“really nothing.”

“Oh, I dare say about that, yer know,” observed Noah, backingtowards the door, and shaking his head with a kind of sober alarm. “No,no—none of that. It’s not in my department, thatain’t.”

“Wot department has he got, Fagin?” inquired Master Bates,surveying Noah’s lank form with much disgust. “The cutting awaywhen there’s anything wrong, and the eating all the wittles whenthere’s everything right; is that his branch?”

“Never mind,” retorted Mr. Bolter; “and don’t yer takeliberties with yer superiors, little boy, or yer’ll find yerself in thewrong shop.”

Master Bates laughed so vehemently at this magnificent threat, that it was sometime before Fagin could interpose, and represent to Mr. Bolter that he incurredno possible danger in visiting the police-office; that, inasmuch as no accountof the little affair in which he had engaged, nor any description of hisperson, had yet been forwarded to the metropolis, it was very probable that hewas not even suspected of having resorted to it for shelter; and that, if hewere properly disguised, it would be as safe a spot for him to visit as any inLondon, inasmuch as it would be, of all places, the very last, to which hecould be supposed likely to resort of his own free will.

Persuaded, in part, by these representations, but overborne in a much greaterdegree by his fear of Fagin, Mr. Bolter at length consented, with a very badgrace, to undertake the expedition. By Fagin’s directions, he immediatelysubstituted for his own attire, a waggoner’s frock, velveteen breeches,and leather leggings: all of which articles the Jew had at hand. He waslikewise furnished with a felt hat well garnished with turnpike tickets; and acarter’s whip. Thus equipped, he was to saunter into the office, as somecountry fellow from Covent Garden market might be supposed to do for thegratification of his curiousity; and as he was as awkward, ungainly, andraw-boned a fellow as need be, Mr. Fagin had no fear but that he would look thepart to perfection.

These arrangements completed, he was informed of the necessary signs and tokensby which to recognise the Artful Dodger, and was conveyed by Master Batesthrough dark and winding ways to within a very short distance of Bow Street.Having described the precise situation of the office, and accompanied it withcopious directions how he was to walk straight up the passage, and when he gotinto the side, and pull off his hat as he went into the room, Charley Batesbade him hurry on alone, and promised to bide his return on the spot of theirparting.

Noah Claypole, or Morris Bolter as the reader pleases, punctually followed thedirections he had received, which—Master Bates being pretty wellacquainted with the locality—were so exact that he was enabled to gainthe magisterial presence without asking any question, or meeting with anyinterruption by the way.

He found himself jostled among a crowd of people, chiefly women, who werehuddled together in a dirty frowsy room, at the upper end of which was a raisedplatform railed off from the rest, with a dock for the prisoners on the lefthand against the wall, a box for the witnesses in the middle, and a desk forthe magistrates on the right; the awful locality last named, being screened offby a partition which concealed the bench from the common gaze, and left thevulgar to imagine (if they could) the full majesty of justice.

There were only a couple of women in the dock, who were nodding to theiradmiring friends, while the clerk read some depositions to a couple ofpolicemen and a man in plain clothes who leant over the table. A jailer stoodreclining against the dock-rail, tapping his nose listlessly with a large key,except when he repressed an undue tendency to conversation among the idlers, byproclaiming silence; or looked sternly up to bid some woman “Take thatbaby out,” when the gravity of justice was disturbed by feeble cries,half-smothered in the mother’s shawl, from some meagre infant. The roomsmelt close and unwholesome; the walls were dirt-discoloured; and the ceilingblackened. There was an old smoky bust over the mantel-shelf, and a dusty clockabove the dock—the only thing present, that seemed to go on as it ought;for depravity, or poverty, or an habitual acquaintance with both, had left ataint on all the animate matter, hardly less unpleasant than the thick greasyscum on every inanimate object that frowned upon it.

Noah looked eagerly about him for the Dodger; but although there were severalwomen who would have done very well for that distinguished character’smother or sister, and more than one man who might be supposed to bear a strongresemblance to his father, nobody at all answering the description given him ofMr. Dawkins was to be seen. He waited in a state of much suspense anduncertainty until the women, being committed for trial, went flaunting out; andthen was quickly relieved by the appearance of another prisoner who he felt atonce could be no other than the object of his visit.

It was indeed Mr. Dawkins, who, shuffling into the office with the big coatsleeves tucked up as usual, his left hand in his pocket, and his hat in hisright hand, preceded the jailer, with a rolling gait altogether indescribable,and, taking his place in the dock, requested in an audible voice to know whathe was placed in that ’ere disgraceful sitivation for.

“Hold your tongue, will you?” said the jailer.

“I’m an Englishman, ain’t I?” rejoined the Dodger.“Where are my priwileges?”

“You’ll get your privileges soon enough,” retorted thejailer, “and pepper with ’em.”

“We’ll see wot the Secretary of State for the Home Affairs has gotto say to the beaks, if I don’t,” replied Mr. Dawkins. “Nowthen! Wot is this here business? I shall thank the madg’strates todispose of this here little affair, and not to keep me while they read thepaper, for I’ve got an appointment with a genelman in the City, and as Iam a man of my word and wery punctual in business matters, he’ll go awayif I ain’t there to my time, and then pr’aps ther won’t be anaction for damage against them as kep me away. Oh no, certainly not!”

At this point, the Dodger, with a show of being very particular with a view toproceedings to be had thereafter, desired the jailer to communicate “thenames of them two files as was on the bench.” Which so tickled thespectators, that they laughed almost as heartily as Master Bates could havedone if he had heard the request.

“Silence there!” cried the jailer.

“What is this?” inquired one of the magistrates.

“A pick-pocketing case, your worship.”

“Has the boy ever been here before?”

“He ought to have been, a many times,” replied the jailer.“He has been pretty well everywhere else. I know him well, yourworship.”

“Oh! you know me, do you?” cried the Artful, making a note of thestatement. “Wery good. That’s a case of deformation of character,any way.”

Here there was another laugh, and another cry of silence.

“Now then, where are the witnesses?” said the clerk.

“Ah! that’s right,” added the Dodger. “Where are they?I should like to see ’em.”

This wish was immediately gratified, for a policeman stepped forward who hadseen the prisoner attempt the pocket of an unknown gentleman in a crowd, andindeed take a handkerchief therefrom, which, being a very old one, hedeliberately put back again, after trying it on his own countenance. For thisreason, he took the Dodger into custody as soon as he could get near him, andthe said Dodger, being searched, had upon his person a silver snuff-box, withthe owner’s name engraved upon the lid. This gentleman had beendiscovered on reference to the Court Guide, and being then and there present,swore that the snuff-box was his, and that he had missed it on the previousday, the moment he had disengaged himself from the crowd before referred to. Hehad also remarked a young gentleman in the throng, particularly active inmaking his way about, and that young gentleman was the prisoner before him.

“Have you anything to ask this witness, boy?” said the magistrate.

“I wouldn’t abase myself by descending to hold no conversation withhim,” replied the Dodger.

“Have you anything to say at all?”

“Do you hear his worship ask if you’ve anything to say?”inquired the jailer, nudging the silent Dodger with his elbow.

“I beg your pardon,” said the Dodger, looking up with an air ofabstraction. “Did you redress yourself to me, my man?”

“I never see such an out-and-out young wagabond, your worship,”observed the officer with a grin. “Do you mean to say anything, you youngshaver?”

“No,” replied the Dodger, “not here, for this ain’t theshop for justice: besides which, my attorney is a-breakfasting this morningwith the Wice President of the House of Commons; but I shall have something tosay elsewhere, and so will he, and so will a wery numerous and ’spectablecircle of acquaintance as’ll make them beaks wish they’d never beenborn, or that they’d got their footmen to hang ’em up to their ownhat-pegs, afore they let ’em come out this morning to try it on upon me.I’ll—”

“There! He’s fully committed!” interposed the clerk.“Take him away.”

“Come on,” said the jailer.

“Oh ah! I’ll come on,” replied the Dodger, brushing his hatwith the palm of his hand. “Ah! (to the Bench) it’s no use yourlooking frightened; I won’t show you no mercy, not a ha’porth ofit. You’ll pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn’t be youfor something! I wouldn’t go free, now, if you was to fall down on yourknees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison! Take me away!”

With these last words, the Dodger suffered himself to be led off by the collar;threatening, till he got into the yard, to make a parliamentary business of it;and then grinning in the officer’s face, with great glee andself-approval.

Having seen him locked up by himself in a little cell, Noah made the best ofhis way back to where he had left Master Bates. After waiting here some time,he was joined by that young gentleman, who had prudently abstained from showinghimself until he had looked carefully abroad from a snug retreat, andascertained that his new friend had not been followed by any impertinentperson.

The two hastened back together, to bear to Mr. Fagin the animating news thatthe Dodger was doing full justice to his bringing-up, and establishing forhimself a glorious reputation.

Adept as she was, in all the arts of cunning and dissimulation, the girl Nancycould not wholly conceal the effect which the knowledge of the step she hadtaken, wrought upon her mind. She remembered that both the crafty Jew and thebrutal Sikes had confided to her schemes, which had been hidden from allothers: in the full confidence that she was trustworthy and beyond the reach oftheir suspicion. Vile as those schemes were, desperate as were theiroriginators, and bitter as were her feelings towards Fagin, who had led her,step by step, deeper and deeper down into an abyss of crime and misery, whencewas no escape; still, there were times when, even towards him, she felt somerelenting, lest her disclosure should bring him within the iron grasp he had solong eluded, and he should fall at last—richly as he merited such afate—by her hand.

But, these were the mere wanderings of a mind unable wholly to detach itselffrom old companions and associations, though enabled to fix itself steadily onone object, and resolved not to be turned aside by any consideration. Her fearsfor Sikes would have been more powerful inducements to recoil while there wasyet time; but she had stipulated that her secret should be rigidly kept, shehad dropped no clue which could lead to his discovery, she had refused, evenfor his sake, a refuge from all the guilt and wretchedness that encompassesher—and what more could she do! She was resolved.

Though all her mental struggles terminated in this conclusion, they forcedthemselves upon her, again and again, and left their traces too. She grew paleand thin, even within a few days. At times, she took no heed of what waspassing before her, or no part in conversations where once, she would have beenthe loudest. At other times, she laughed without merriment, and was noisywithout a moment afterwards—she sat silent and dejected, brooding withher head upon her hands, while the very effort by which she roused herself,told, more forcibly than even these indications, that she was ill at ease, andthat her thoughts were occupied with matters very different and distant fromthose in the course of discussion by her companions.

It was Sunday night, and the bell of the nearest church struck the hour. Sikesand the Jew were talking, but they paused to listen. The girl looked up fromthe low seat on which she crouched, and listened too. Eleven.

“An hour this side of midnight,” said Sikes, raising the blind tolook out and returning to his seat. “Dark and heavy it is too. A goodnight for business this.”

“Ah!” replied Fagin. “What a pity, Bill, my dear, thatthere’s none quite ready to be done.”

“You’re right for once,” replied Sikes gruffly. “It isa pity, for I’m in the humour too.”

Fagin sighed, and shook his head despondingly.

“We must make up for lost time when we’ve got things into a goodtrain. That’s all I know,” said Sikes.

“That’s the way to talk, my dear,” replied Fagin, venturingto pat him on the shoulder. “It does me good to hear you.”

“Does you good, does it!” cried Sikes. “Well, so beit.”

“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Fagin, as if he were relieved by even thisconcession. “You’re like yourself to-night, Bill. Quite likeyourself.”

“I don’t feel like myself when you lay that withered old claw on myshoulder, so take it away,” said Sikes, casting off the Jew’s hand.

“It make you nervous, Bill,—reminds you of being nabbed, doesit?” said Fagin, determined not to be offended.

“Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil,” returned Sikes.“There never was another man with such a face as yours, unless it wasyour father, and I suppose he is singeing his grizzled red beard by thistime, unless you came straight from the old ’un without any father at allbetwixt you; which I shouldn’t wonder at, a bit.”

Fagin offered no reply to this compliment: but, pulling Sikes by the sleeve,pointed his finger towards Nancy, who had taken advantage of the foregoingconversation to put on her bonnet, and was now leaving the room.

“Hallo!” cried Sikes. “Nance. Where’s the gal going toat this time of night?”

“Not far.”

“What answer’s that?” retorted Sikes. “Do you hearme?”

“I don’t know where,” replied the girl.

“Then I do,” said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy thanbecause he had any real objection to the girl going where she listed.“Nowhere. Sit down.”

“I’m not well. I told you that before,” rejoined the girl.“I want a breath of air.”

“Put your head out of the winder,” replied Sikes.

“There’s not enough there,” said the girl. “I want itin the street.”

“Then you won’t have it,” replied Sikes. With which assurancehe rose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnet from herhead, flung it up to the top of an old press. “There,” said therobber. “Now stop quietly where you are, will you?”

“It’s not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,” said thegirl turning very pale. “What do you mean, Bill? Do you know whatyou’re doing?”

“Know what I’m—Oh!” cried Sikes, turning to Fagin,“she’s out of her senses, you know, or she daren’t talk to mein that way.”

“You’ll drive me on the something desperate,” muttered thegirl placing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down by force someviolent outbreak. “Let me go, will you,—this minute—thisinstant.”

“No!” said Sikes.

“Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It’ll be better forhim. Do you hear me?” cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the ground.

“Hear you!” repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confronther. “Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog shall havesuch a grip on your throat as’ll tear some of that screaming voice out.Wot has come over you, you jade! Wot is it?”

“Let me go,” said the girl with great earnestness; then sittingherself down on the floor, before the door, she said, “Bill, let me go;you don’t know what you are doing. You don’t, indeed. For only onehour—do—do!”

“Cut my limbs off one by one!” cried Sikes, seizing her roughly bythe arm, “If I don’t think the gal’s stark raving mad. Getup.”

“Not till you let me go—not till you let mego—Never—never!” screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for aminute, watching his opportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her,struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small room adjoining,where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting her into a chair, held her downby force. She struggled and implored by turns until twelve o’clock hadstruck, and then, wearied and exhausted, ceased to contest the point anyfurther. With a caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to goout that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined Fagin.

“Whew!” said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from hisface. “Wot a precious strange gal that is!”

“You may say that, Bill,” replied Fagin thoughtfully. “Youmay say that.”

“Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do youthink?” asked Sikes. “Come; you should know her better than me. Wotdoes it mean?”

“Obstinacy; woman’s obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.”

“Well, I suppose it is,” growled Sikes. “I thought I hadtamed her, but she’s as bad as ever.”

“Worse,” said Fagin thoughtfully. “I never knew her likethis, for such a little cause.”

“Nor I,” said Sikes. “I think she’s got a touch of thatfever in her blood yet, and it won’t come out—eh?”

“Like enough.”

“I’ll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, ifshe’s took that way again,” said Sikes.

Fagin nodded an expressive approval of this mode of treatment.

“She was hanging about me all day, and night too, when I was stretched onmy back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as you are, kept yourselfaloof,” said Sikes. “We was poor too, all the time, and I think,one way or other, it’s worried and fretted her; and that being shut uphere so long has made her restless—eh?”

“That’s it, my dear,” replied the Jew in a whisper.“Hush!”

As he uttered these words, the girl herself appeared and resumed her formerseat. Her eyes were swollen and red; she rocked herself to and fro; tossed herhead; and, after a little time, burst out laughing.

“Why, now she’s on the other tack!” exclaimed Sikes, turninga look of excessive surprise on his companion.

Fagin nodded to him to take no further notice just then; and, in a few minutes,the girl subsided into her accustomed demeanour. Whispering Sikes that therewas no fear of her relapsing, Fagin took up his hat and bade him good-night. Hepaused when he reached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebodywould light him down the dark stairs.

“Light him down,” said Sikes, who was filling his pipe.“It’s a pity he should break his neck himself, and disappoint thesight-seers. Show him a light.”

Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle. When they reached thepassage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawing close to the girl, said, ina whisper.

“What is it, Nancy, dear?”

“What do you mean?” replied the girl, in the same tone.

“The reason of all this,” replied Fagin. “Ifhe”—he pointed with his skinny fore-finger up thestairs—“is so hard with you (he’s a brute, Nance, abrute-beast), why don’t you—”

“Well?” said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almosttouching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers.

“No matter just now. We’ll talk of this again. You have a friend inme, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand, quiet and close. If youwant revenge on those that treat you like a dog—like a dog! worse thanhis dog, for he humours him sometimes—come to me. I say, come to me. Heis the mere hound of a day, but you know me of old, Nance.”

“I know you well,” replied the girl, without manifesting the leastemotion. “Good-night.”

She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, but said good-nightagain, in a steady voice, and, answering his parting look with a nod ofintelligence, closed the door between them.

Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that were workingwithin his brain. He had conceived the idea—not from what had just passedthough that had tended to confirm him, but slowly and by degrees—thatNancy, wearied of the housebreaker’s brutality, had conceived anattachment for some new friend. Her altered manner, her repeated absences fromhome alone, her comparative indifference to the interests of the gang for whichshe had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperate impatience toleave home that night at a particular hour, all favoured the supposition, andrendered it, to him at least, almost matter of certainty. The object of thisnew liking was not among his myrmidons. He would be a valuable acquisition withsuch an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) be secured withoutdelay.

There was another, and a darker object, to be gained. Sikes knew too much, andhis ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less, because the wounds werehidden. The girl must know, well, that if she shook him off, she could never besafe from his fury, and that it would be surely wreaked—to the maiming oflimbs, or perhaps the loss of life—on the object of her more recentfancy.

“With a little persuasion,” thought Fagin, “what more likelythan that she would consent to poison him? Women have done such things, andworse, to secure the same object before now. There would be the dangerousvillain: the man I hate: gone; another secured in his place; and my influenceover the girl, with a knowledge of this crime to back it, unlimited.”

These things passed through the mind of Fagin, during the short time he satalone, in the housebreaker’s room; and with them uppermost in histhoughts, he had taken the opportunity afterwards afforded him, of sounding thegirl in the broken hints he threw out at parting. There was no expression ofsurprise, no assumption of an inability to understand his meaning. The girlclearly comprehended it. Her glance at parting showed that.

But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life of Sikes, and thatwas one of the chief ends to be attained. “How,” thought Fagin, ashe crept homeward, “can I increase my influence with her? What new powercan I acquire?”

Such brains are fertile in expedients. If, without extracting a confession fromherself, he laid a watch, discovered the object of her altered regard, andthreatened to reveal the whole history to Sikes (of whom she stood in no commonfear) unless she entered into his designs, could he not secure her compliance?

“I can,” said Fagin, almost aloud. “She durst not refuse methen. Not for her life, not for her life! I have it all. The means are ready,and shall be set to work. I shall have you yet!”

He cast back a dark look, and a threatening motion of the hand, towards thespot where he had left the bolder villain; and went on his way: busying hisbony hands in the folds of his tattered garment, which he wrenched tightly inhis grasp, as though there were a hated enemy crushed with every motion of hisfingers.

The old man was up, betimes, next morning, and waited impatiently for theappearance of his new associate, who after a delay that seemed interminable, atlength presented himself, and commenced a voracious assault on the breakfast.

“Bolter,” said Fagin, drawing up a chair and seating himselfopposite Morris Bolter.

“Well, here I am,” returned Noah. “What’s the matter?Don’t yer ask me to do anything till I have done eating. That’s agreat fault in this place. Yer never get time enough over yer meals.”

“You can talk as you eat, can’t you?” said Fagin, cursing hisdear young friend’s greediness from the very bottom of his heart.

“Oh yes, I can talk. I get on better when I talk,” said Noah,cutting a monstrous slice of bread. “Where’s Charlotte?”

“Out,” said Fagin. “I sent her out this morning with theother young woman, because I wanted us to be alone.”

“Oh!” said Noah. “I wish yer’d ordered her to make somebuttered toast first. Well. Talk away. Yer won’t interrupt me.”

There seemed, indeed, no great fear of anything interrupting him, as he hadevidently sat down with a determination to do a great deal of business.

“You did well yesterday, my dear,” said Fagin. “Beautiful!Six shillings and ninepence halfpenny on the very first day! The kinchin laywill be a fortune to you.”

“Don’t you forget to add three pint-pots and a milk-can,”said Mr. Bolter.

“No, no, my dear. The pint-pots were great strokes of genius: but themilk-can was a perfect masterpiece.”

“Pretty well, I think, for a beginner,” remarked Mr. Boltercomplacently. “The pots I took off airy railings, and the milk-can wasstanding by itself outside a public-house. I thought it might get rusty withthe rain, or catch cold, yer know. Eh? Ha! ha! ha!”

Fagin affected to laugh very heartily; and Mr. Bolter having had his laugh out,took a series of large bites, which finished his first hunk of bread andbutter, and assisted himself to a second.

“I want you, Bolter,” said Fagin, leaning over the table, “todo a piece of work for me, my dear, that needs great care and caution.”

“I say,” rejoined Bolter, “don’t yer go shoving me intodanger, or sending me any more o’ yer police-offices. That don’tsuit me, that don’t; and so I tell yer.”

“That’s not the smallest danger in it—not the verysmallest,” said the Jew; “it’s only to dodge a woman.”

“An old woman?” demanded Mr. Bolter.

“A young one,” replied Fagin.

“I can do that pretty well, I know,” said Bolter. “I was aregular cunning sneak when I was at school. What am I to dodge her for? Notto—”

“Not to do anything, but to tell me where she goes, who she sees, and, ifpossible, what she says; to remember the street, if it is a street, or thehouse, if it is a house; and to bring me back all the information youcan.”

“What’ll yer give me?” asked Noah, setting down his cup, andlooking his employer, eagerly, in the face.

“If you do it well, a pound, my dear. One pound,” said Fagin,wishing to interest him in the scent as much as possible. “Andthat’s what I never gave yet, for any job of work where therewasn’t valuable consideration to be gained.”

“Who is she?” inquired Noah.

“One of us.”

“Oh Lor!” cried Noah, curling up his nose. “Yer doubtful ofher, are yer?”

“She has found out some new friends, my dear, and I must know who theyare,” replied Fagin.

“I see,” said Noah. “Just to have the pleasure of knowingthem, if they’re respectable people, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I’m yourman.”

“I knew you would be,” cried Fagin, elated by the success of hisproposal.

“Of course, of course,” replied Noah. “Where is she? Where amI to wait for her? Where am I to go?”

“All that, my dear, you shall hear from me. I’ll point her out atthe proper time,” said Fagin. “You keep ready, and leave the restto me.”

That night, and the next, and the next again, the spy sat booted and equippedin his carter’s dress: ready to turn out at a word from Fagin. Six nightspassed—six long weary nights—and on each, Fagin came home with adisappointed face, and briefly intimated that it was not yet time. On theseventh, he returned earlier, and with an exultation he could not conceal. Itwas Sunday.

“She goes abroad to-night,” said Fagin, “and on the righterrand, I’m sure; for she has been alone all day, and the man she isafraid of will not be back much before daybreak. Come with me. Quick!”

Noah started up without saying a word; for the Jew was in a state of suchintense excitement that it infected him. They left the house stealthily, andhurrying through a labyrinth of streets, arrived at length before apublic-house, which Noah recognised as the same in which he had slept, on thenight of his arrival in London.

It was past eleven o’clock, and the door was closed. It opened softly onits hinges as Fagin gave a low whistle. They entered, without noise; and thedoor was closed behind them.

Scarcely venturing to whisper, but substituting dumb show for words, Fagin, andthe young Jew who had admitted them, pointed out the pane of glass to Noah, andsigned to him to climb up and observe the person in the adjoining room.

“Is that the woman?” he asked, scarcely above his breath.

Fagin nodded yes.

“I can’t see her face well,” whispered Noah. “She islooking down, and the candle is behind her.

“Stay there,” whispered Fagin. He signed to Barney, who withdrew.In an instant, the lad entered the room adjoining, and, under pretence ofsnuffing the candle, moved it in the required position, and, speaking to thegirl, caused her to raise her face.

“I see her now,” cried the spy.

“Plainly?”

“I should know her among a thousand.”

He hastily descended, as the room-door opened, and the girl came out. Fagindrew him behind a small partition which was curtained off, and they held theirbreaths as she passed within a few feet of their place of concealment, andemerged by the door at which they had entered.

“Hist!” cried the lad who held the door. “Dow.”

Noah exchanged a look with Fagin, and darted out.

“To the left,” whispered the lad; “take the left had, andkeep od the other side.”

He did so; and, by the light of the lamps, saw the girl’s retreatingfigure, already at some distance before him. He advanced as near as heconsidered prudent, and kept on the opposite side of the street, the better toobserve her motions. She looked nervously round, twice or thrice, and oncestopped to let two men who were following close behind her, pass on. She seemedto gather courage as she advanced, and to walk with a steadier and firmer step.The spy preserved the same relative distance between them, and followed: withhis eye upon her.

The church clocks chimed three quarters past eleven, as two figures emerged onLondon Bridge. One, which advanced with a swift and rapid step, was that of awoman who looked eagerly about her as though in quest of some expected object;the other figure was that of a man, who slunk along in the deepest shadow hecould find, and, at some distance, accommodated his pace to hers: stopping whenshe stopped: and as she moved again, creeping stealthily on: but never allowinghimself, in the ardour of his pursuit, to gain upon her footsteps. Thus, theycrossed the bridge, from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, when the woman,apparently disappointed in her anxious scrutiny of the foot-passengers, turnedback. The movement was sudden; but he who watched her, was not thrown off hisguard by it; for, shrinking into one of the recesses which surmount the piersof the bridge, and leaning over the parapet the better to conceal his figure,he suffered her to pass on the opposite pavement. When she was about the samedistance in advance as she had been before, he slipped quietly down, andfollowed her again. At nearly the centre of the bridge, she stopped. The manstopped too.

It was a very dark night. The day had been unfavourable, and at that hour andplace there were few people stirring. Such as there were, hurried quickly past:very possibly without seeing, but certainly without noticing, either the woman,or the man who kept her in view. Their appearance was not calculated to attractthe importunate regards of such of London’s destitute population, aschanced to take their way over the bridge that night in search of some coldarch or doorless hovel wherein to lay their heads; they stood there in silence:neither speaking nor spoken to, by any one who passed.

A mist hung over the river, deepening the red glare of the fires that burntupon the small craft moored off the different wharfs, and rendering darker andmore indistinct the murky buildings on the banks. The old smoke-stainedstorehouses on either side, rose heavy and dull from the dense mass of roofsand gables, and frowned sternly upon water too black to reflect even theirlumbering shapes. The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spireof Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the ancient bridge, were visiblein the gloom; but the forest of shipping below bridge, and the thicklyscattered spires of churches above, were nearly all hidden from sight.

The girl had taken a few restless turns to and fro—closely watchedmeanwhile by her hidden observer—when the heavy bell of St. Paul’stolled for the death of another day. Midnight had come upon the crowded city.The palace, the night-cellar, the jail, the madhouse: the chambers of birth anddeath, of health and sickness, the rigid face of the corpse and the calm sleepof the child: midnight was upon them all.

The hour had not struck two minutes, when a young lady, accompanied by agrey-haired gentleman, alighted from a hackney-carriage within a short distanceof the bridge, and, having dismissed the vehicle, walked straight towards it.They had scarcely set foot upon its pavement, when the girl started, andimmediately made towards them.

They walked onward, looking about them with the air of persons who entertainedsome very slight expectation which had little chance of being realised, whenthey were suddenly joined by this new associate. They halted with anexclamation of surprise, but suppressed it immediately; for a man in thegarments of a countryman came close up—brushed against them,indeed—at that precise moment.

“Not here,” said Nancy hurriedly, “I am afraid to speak toyou here. Come away—out of the public road—down the stepsyonder!”

As she uttered these words, and indicated, with her hand, the direction inwhich she wished them to proceed, the countryman looked round, and roughlyasking what they took up the whole pavement for, passed on.

The steps to which the girl had pointed, were those which, on the Surrey bank,and on the same side of the bridge as Saint Saviour’s Church, form alanding-stairs from the river. To this spot, the man bearing the appearance ofa countryman, hastened unobserved; and after a moment’s survey of theplace, he began to descend.

These stairs are a part of the bridge; they consist of three flights. Justbelow the end of the second, going down, the stone wall on the left terminatesin an ornamental pilaster facing towards the Thames. At this point the lowersteps widen: so that a person turning that angle of the wall, is necessarilyunseen by any others on the stairs who chance to be above him, if only a step.The countryman looked hastily round, when he reached this point; and as thereseemed no better place of concealment, and, the tide being out, there wasplenty of room, he slipped aside, with his back to the pilaster, and therewaited: pretty certain that they would come no lower, and that even if he couldnot hear what was said, he could follow them again, with safety.

So tardily stole the time in this lonely place, and so eager was the spy topenetrate the motives of an interview so different from what he had been led toexpect, that he more than once gave the matter up for lost, and persuadedhimself, either that they had stopped far above, or had resorted to someentirely different spot to hold their mysterious conversation. He was on thepoint of emerging from his hiding-place, and regaining the road above, when heheard the sound of footsteps, and directly afterwards of voices almost close athis ear.

He drew himself straight upright against the wall, and, scarcely breathing,listened attentively.

“This is far enough,” said a voice, which was evidently that of thegentleman. “I will not suffer the young lady to go any farther. Manypeople would have distrusted you too much to have come even so far, but you seeI am willing to humour you.”

“To humour me!” cried the voice of the girl whom he had followed.“You’re considerate, indeed, sir. To humour me! Well, well,it’s no matter.”

“Why, for what,” said the gentleman in a kinder tone, “forwhat purpose can you have brought us to this strange place? Why not have let mespeak to you, above there, where it is light, and there is something stirring,instead of bringing us to this dark and dismal hole?”

“I told you before,” replied Nancy, “that I was afraid tospeak to you there. I don’t know why it is,” said the girl,shuddering, “but I have such a fear and dread upon me to-night that I canhardly stand.”

“A fear of what?” asked the gentleman, who seemed to pity her.

“I scarcely know of what,” replied the girl. “I wish I did.Horrible thoughts of death, and shrouds with blood upon them, and a fear thathas made me burn as if I was on fire, have been upon me all day. I was readinga book to-night, to wile the time away, and the same things came into theprint.”

“Imagination,” said the gentleman, soothing her.

“No imagination,” replied the girl in a hoarse voice.“I’ll swear I saw ‘coffin’ written in every page of thebook in large black letters,—aye, and they carried one close to me, inthe streets to-night.”

“There is nothing unusual in that,” said the gentleman. “Theyhave passed me often.”

Real ones,” rejoined the girl. “This was not.”

There was something so uncommon in her manner, that the flesh of the concealedlistener crept as he heard the girl utter these words, and the blood chilledwithin him. He had never experienced a greater relief than in hearing the sweetvoice of the young lady as she begged her to be calm, and not allow herself tobecome the prey of such fearful fancies.

“Speak to her kindly,” said the young lady to her companion.“Poor creature! She seems to need it.”

“Your haughty religious people would have held their heads up to see meas I am to-night, and preached of flames and vengeance,” cried the girl.“Oh, dear lady, why ar’n’t those who claim to be God’sown folks as gentle and as kind to us poor wretches as you, who, having youth,and beauty, and all that they have lost, might be a little proud instead of somuch humbler?”

“Ah!” said the gentleman. “A Turk turns his face, afterwashing it well, to the East, when he says his prayers; these good people,after giving their faces such a rub against the World as to take the smilesoff, turn with no less regularity, to the darkest side of Heaven. Between theMussulman and the Pharisee, commend me to the first!”

These words appeared to be addressed to the young lady, and were perhapsuttered with the view of affording Nancy time to recover herself. Thegentleman, shortly afterwards, addressed himself to her.

“You were not here last Sunday night,” he said.

“I couldn’t come,” replied Nancy; “I was kept byforce.”

“By whom?”

“Him that I told the young lady of before.”

“You were not suspected of holding any communication with anybody on thesubject which has brought us here to-night, I hope?” asked the oldgentleman.

“No,” replied the girl, shaking her head. “It’s notvery easy for me to leave him unless he knows why; I couldn’t give him adrink of laudanum before I came away.”

“Did he awake before you returned?” inquired the gentleman.

“No; and neither he nor any of them suspect me.”

“Good,” said the gentleman. “Now listen to me.”

“I am ready,” replied the girl, as he paused for a moment.

“This young lady,” the gentleman began, “has communicated tome, and to some other friends who can be safely trusted, what you told hernearly a fortnight since. I confess to you that I had doubts, at first, whetheryou were to be implicitly relied upon, but now I firmly believe you are.”

“I am,” said the girl earnestly.

“I repeat that I firmly believe it. To prove to you that I am disposed totrust you, I tell you without reserve, that we propose to extort the secret,whatever it may be, from the fear of this man Monks. Butif—if—” said the gentleman, “he cannot be secured, or,if secured, cannot be acted upon as we wish, you must deliver up theJew.”

“Fagin,” cried the girl, recoiling.

“That man must be delivered up by you,” said the gentleman.

“I will not do it! I will never do it!” replied the girl.“Devil that he is, and worse than devil as he has been to me, I willnever do that.”

“You will not?” said the gentleman, who seemed fully prepared forthis answer.

“Never!” returned the girl.

“Tell me why?”

“For one reason,” rejoined the girl firmly, “for one reason,that the lady knows and will stand by me in, I know she will, for I have herpromise: and for this other reason, besides, that, bad life as he has led, Ihave led a bad life too; there are many of us who have kept the same coursestogether, and I’ll not turn upon them, who might—any ofthem—have turned upon me, but didn’t, bad as they are.”

“Then,” said the gentleman, quickly, as if this had been the pointhe had been aiming to attain; “put Monks into my hands, and leave him tome to deal with.”

“What if he turns against the others?”

“I promise you that in that case, if the truth is forced from him, therethe matter will rest; there must be circumstances in Oliver’s littlehistory which it would be painful to drag before the public eye, and if thetruth is once elicited, they shall go scot free.”

“And if it is not?” suggested the girl.

“Then,” pursued the gentleman, “this Fagin shall not bebrought to justice without your consent. In such a case I could show youreasons, I think, which would induce you to yield it.”

“Have I the lady’s promise for that?” asked the girl.

“You have,” replied Rose. “My true and faithfulpledge.”

“Monks would never learn how you knew what you do?” said the girl,after a short pause.

“Never,” replied the gentleman. “The intelligence should bebrought to bear upon him, that he could never even guess.”

“I have been a liar, and among liars from a little child,” said thegirl after another interval of silence, “but I will take yourwords.”

After receiving an assurance from both, that she might safely do so, sheproceeded in a voice so low that it was often difficult for the listener todiscover even the purport of what she said, to describe, by name and situation,the public-house whence she had been followed that night. From the manner inwhich she occasionally paused, it appeared as if the gentleman were making somehasty notes of the information she communicated. When she had thoroughlyexplained the localities of the place, the best position from which to watch itwithout exciting observation, and the night and hour on which Monks was most inthe habit of frequenting it, she seemed to consider for a few moments, for thepurpose of recalling his features and appearances more forcibly to herrecollection.

“He is tall,” said the girl, “and a strongly made man, butnot stout; he has a lurking walk; and as he walks, constantly looks over hisshoulder, first on one side, and then on the other. Don’t forget that,for his eyes are sunk in his head so much deeper than any other man’s,that you might almost tell him by that alone. His face is dark, like his hairand eyes; and, although he can’t be more than six or eight and twenty,withered and haggard. His lips are often discoloured and disfigured with themarks of teeth; for he has desperate fits, and sometimes even bites his handsand covers them with wounds—why did you start?” said the girl,stopping suddenly.

The gentleman replied, in a hurried manner, that he was not conscious of havingdone so, and begged her to proceed.

“Part of this,” said the girl, “I have drawn out from otherpeople at the house I tell you of, for I have only seen him twice, and bothtimes he was covered up in a large cloak. I think that’s all I can giveyou to know him by. Stay though,” she added. “Upon his throat: sohigh that you can see a part of it below his neckerchief when he turns hisface: there is—”

“A broad red mark, like a burn or scald?” cried the gentleman.

“How’s this?” said the girl. “You know him!”

The young lady uttered a cry of surprise, and for a few moments they were sostill that the listener could distinctly hear them breathe.

“I think I do,” said the gentleman, breaking silence. “Ishould by your description. We shall see. Many people are singularly like eachother. It may not be the same.”

As he expressed himself to this effect, with assumed carelessness, he took astep or two nearer the concealed spy, as the latter could tell from thedistinctness with which he heard him mutter, “It must be he!”

“Now,” he said, returning: so it seemed by the sound: to the spotwhere he had stood before, “you have given us most valuable assistance,young woman, and I wish you to be the better for it. What can I do to serveyou?”

“Nothing,” replied Nancy.

“You will not persist in saying that,” rejoined the gentleman, witha voice and emphasis of kindness that might have touched a much harder and moreobdurate heart. “Think now. Tell me.”

“Nothing, sir,” rejoined the girl, weeping. “You can donothing to help me. I am past all hope, indeed.”

“You put yourself beyond its pale,” said the gentleman. “Thepast has been a dreary waste with you, of youthful energies mis-spent, and suchpriceless treasures lavished, as the Creator bestows but once and never grantsagain, but, for the future, you may hope. I do not say that it is in our powerto offer you peace of heart and mind, for that must come as you seek it; but aquiet asylum, either in England, or, if you fear to remain here, in someforeign country, it is not only within the compass of our ability but our mostanxious wish to secure you. Before the dawn of morning, before this river wakesto the first glimpse of day-light, you shall be placed as entirely beyond thereach of your former associates, and leave as utter an absence of all tracebehind you, as if you were to disappear from the earth this moment. Come! Iwould not have you go back to exchange one word with any old companion, or takeone look at any old haunt, or breathe the very air which is pestilence anddeath to you. Quit them all, while there is time and opportunity!”

“She will be persuaded now,” cried the young lady. “Shehesitates, I am sure.”

“I fear not, my dear,” said the gentleman.

“No sir, I do not,” replied the girl, after a short struggle.“I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannotleave it. I must have gone too far to turn back,—and yet I don’tknow, for if you had spoken to me so, some time ago, I should have laughed itoff. But,” she said, looking hastily round, “this fear comes overme again. I must go home.”

“Home!” repeated the young lady, with great stress upon the word.

“Home, lady,” rejoined the girl. “To such a home as I haveraised for myself with the work of my whole life. Let us part. I shall bewatched or seen. Go! Go! If I have done you any service all I ask is, that youleave me, and let me go my way alone.”

“It is useless,” said the gentleman, with a sigh. “Wecompromise her safety, perhaps, by staying here. We may have detained herlonger than she expected already.”

“Yes, yes,” urged the girl. “You have.”

“What,” cried the young lady, “can be the end of this poorcreature’s life!”

“What!” repeated the girl. “Look before you, lady. Look atthat dark water. How many times do you read of such as I who spring into thetide, and leave no living thing, to care for, or bewail them. It may be yearshence, or it may be only months, but I shall come to that at last.”

“Do not speak thus, pray,” returned the young lady, sobbing.

“It will never reach your ears, dear lady, and God forbid such horrorsshould!” replied the girl. “Good-night, good-night!”

The gentleman turned away.

“This purse,” cried the young lady. “Take it for my sake,that you may have some resource in an hour of need and trouble.”

“No!” replied the girl. “I have not done this for money. Letme have that to think of. And yet—give me something that you have worn: Ishould like to have something—no, no, not a ring—your gloves orhandkerchief—anything that I can keep, as having belonged to you, sweetlady. There. Bless you! God bless you. Good-night, good-night!”

The violent agitation of the girl, and the apprehension of some discovery whichwould subject her to ill-usage and violence, seemed to determine the gentlemanto leave her, as she requested.

The sound of retreating footsteps were audible and the voices ceased.

The two figures of the young lady and her companion soon afterwards appearedupon the bridge. They stopped at the summit of the stairs.

“Hark!” cried the young lady, listening. “Did she call! Ithought I heard her voice.”

“No, my love,” replied Mr. Brownlow, looking sadly back. “Shehas not moved, and will not till we are gone.”

Rose Maylie lingered, but the old gentleman drew her arm through his, and ledher, with gentle force, away. As they disappeared, the girl sunk down nearly ather full length upon one of the stone stairs, and vented the anguish of herheart in bitter tears.

After a time she arose, and with feeble and tottering steps ascended thestreet. The astonished listener remained motionless on his post for someminutes afterwards, and having ascertained, with many cautious glances roundhim, that he was again alone, crept slowly from his hiding-place, and returned,stealthily and in the shade of the wall, in the same manner as he haddescended.

Peeping out, more than once, when he reached the top, to make sure that he wasunobserved, Noah Claypole darted away at his utmost speed, and made for theJew’s house as fast as his legs would carry him.

It was nearly two hours before day-break; that time which in the autumn of theyear, may be truly called the dead of night; when the streets are silent anddeserted; when even sounds appear to slumber, and profligacy and riot havestaggered home to dream; it was at this still and silent hour, that Fagin satwatching in his old lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red andblood-shot, that he looked less like a man, than like some hideous phantom,moist from the grave, and worried by an evil spirit.

He sat crouching over a cold hearth, wrapped in an old torn coverlet, with hisface turned towards a wasting candle that stood upon a table by his side. Hisright hand was raised to his lips, and as, absorbed in thought, he hit his longblack nails, he disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as shouldhave been a dog’s or rat’s.

Stretched upon a mattress on the floor, lay Noah Claypole, fast asleep. Towardshim the old man sometimes directed his eyes for an instant, and then broughtthem back again to the candle; which with a long-burnt wick drooping almostdouble, and hot grease falling down in clots upon the table, plainly showedthat his thoughts were busy elsewhere.

Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notable scheme; hatredof the girl who had dared to palter with strangers; and utter distrust of thesincerity of her refusal to yield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss ofhis revenge on Sikes; the fear of detection, and ruin, and death; and a fierceand deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionate considerations which,following close upon each other with rapid and ceaseless whirl, shot throughthe brain of Fagin, as every evil thought and blackest purpose lay working athis heart.

He sat without changing his attitude in the least, or appearing to take thesmallest heed of time, until his quick ear seemed to be attracted by a footstepin the street.

“At last,” he muttered, wiping his dry and fevered mouth. “Atlast!”

The bell rang gently as he spoke. He crept upstairs to the door, and presentlyreturned accompanied by a man muffled to the chin, who carried a bundle underone arm. Sitting down and throwing back his outer coat, the man displayed theburly frame of Sikes.

“There!” he said, laying the bundle on the table. “Take careof that, and do the most you can with it. It’s been trouble enough toget; I thought I should have been here, three hours ago.”

Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in the cupboard, sat downagain without speaking. But he did not take his eyes off the robber, for aninstant, during this action; and now that they sat over against each other,face to face, he looked fixedly at him, with his lips quivering so violently,and his face so altered by the emotions which had mastered him, that thehousebreaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyed him with a look ofreal affright.

“Wot now?” cried Sikes. “Wot do you look at a man sofor?”

Fagin raised his right hand, and shook his trembling forefinger in the air; buthis passion was so great, that the power of speech was for the moment gone.

“Damme!” said Sikes, feeling in his breast with a look of alarm.“He’s gone mad. I must look to myself here.”

“No, no,” rejoined Fagin, finding his voice. “It’snot—you’re not the person, Bill. I’ve no—no fault tofind with you.”

“Oh, you haven’t, haven’t you?” said Sikes, lookingsternly at him, and ostentatiously passing a pistol into a more convenientpocket. “That’s lucky—for one of us. Which one that is,don’t matter.”

“I’ve got that to tell you, Bill,” said Fagin, drawing hischair nearer, “will make you worse than me.”

“Aye?” returned the robber with an incredulous air. “Tellaway! Look sharp, or Nance will think I’m lost.”

“Lost!” cried Fagin. “She has pretty well settled that, inher own mind, already.”

Sikes looked with an aspect of great perplexity into the Jew’s face, andreading no satisfactory explanation of the riddle there, clenched his coatcollar in his huge hand and shook him soundly.

“Speak, will you!” he said; “or if you don’t, it shallbe for want of breath. Open your mouth and say wot you’ve got to say inplain words. Out with it, you thundering old cur, out with it!”

“Suppose that lad that’s laying there—” Fagin began.

Sikes turned round to where Noah was sleeping, as if he had not previouslyobserved him. “Well!” he said, resuming his former position.

“Suppose that lad,” pursued Fagin, “was to peach—toblow upon us all—first seeking out the right folks for the purpose, andthen having a meeting with ’em in the street to paint our likenesses,describe every mark that they might know us by, and the crib where we might bemost easily taken. Suppose he was to do all this, and besides to blow upon aplant we’ve all been in, more or less—of his own fancy; notgrabbed, trapped, tried, earwigged by the parson and brought to it on bread andwater,—but of his own fancy; to please his own taste; stealing out atnights to find those most interested against us, and peaching to them. Do youhear me?” cried the Jew, his eyes flashing with rage. “Suppose hedid all this, what then?”

“What then!” replied Sikes; with a tremendous oath. “If hewas left alive till I came, I’d grind his skull under the iron heel of myboot into as many grains as there are hairs upon his head.”

“What if I did it!” cried Fagin almost in a yell. “I, thatknows so much, and could hang so many besides myself!”

“I don’t know,” replied Sikes, clenching his teeth andturning white at the mere suggestion. “I’d do something in the jailthat ’ud get me put in irons; and if I was tried along with you,I’d fall upon you with them in the open court, and beat your brains outafore the people. I should have such strength,” muttered the robber,poising his brawny arm, “that I could smash your head as if a loadedwaggon had gone over it.”

“You would?”

“Would I!” said the housebreaker. “Try me.”

“If it was Charley, or the Dodger, or Bet, or—”

“I don’t care who,” replied Sikes impatiently. “Whoeverit was, I’d serve them the same.”

Fagin looked hard at the robber; and, motioning him to be silent, stooped overthe bed upon the floor, and shook the sleeper to rouse him. Sikes leant forwardin his chair: looking on with his hands upon his knees, as if wondering muchwhat all this questioning and preparation was to end in.

“Bolter, Bolter! Poor lad!” said Fagin, looking up with anexpression of devilish anticipation, and speaking slowly and with markedemphasis. “He’s tired—tired with watching for her solong,—watching for her, Bill.”

“Wot d’ye mean?” asked Sikes, drawing back.

Fagin made no answer, but bending over the sleeper again, hauled him into asitting posture. When his assumed name had been repeated several times, Noahrubbed his eyes, and, giving a heavy yawn, looked sleepily about him.

“Tell me that again—once again, just for him to hear,” saidthe Jew, pointing to Sikes as he spoke.

“Tell yer what?” asked the sleepy Noah, shaking himself pettishly.

“That about— Nancy,” said Fagin, clutching Sikes bythe wrist, as if to prevent his leaving the house before he had heard enough.“You followed her?”

“Yes.”

“To London Bridge?”

“Yes.”

“Where she met two people.”

“So she did.”

“A gentleman and a lady that she had gone to of her own accord before,who asked her to give up all her pals, and Monks first, which she did—andto describe him, which she did—and to tell her what house it was that wemeet at, and go to, which she did—and where it could be best watchedfrom, which she did—and what time the people went there, which she did.She did all this. She told it all every word without a threat, without amurmur—she did—did she not?” cried Fagin, half mad with fury.

“All right,” replied Noah, scratching his head. “That’sjust what it was!”

“What did they say, about last Sunday?”

“About last Sunday!” replied Noah, considering. “Why I toldyer that before.”

“Again. Tell it again!” cried Fagin, tightening his grasp on Sikes,and brandishing his other hand aloft, as the foam flew from his lips.

“They asked her,” said Noah, who, as he grew more wakeful, seemedto have a dawning perception who Sikes was, “they asked her why shedidn’t come, last Sunday, as she promised. She said shecouldn’t.”

“Why—why? Tell him that.”

“Because she was forcibly kept at home by Bill, the man she had told themof before,” replied Noah.

“What more of him?” cried Fagin. “What more of the man shehad told them of before? Tell him that, tell him that.”

“Why, that she couldn’t very easily get out of doors unless he knewwhere she was going to,” said Noah; “and so the first time she wentto see the lady, she—ha! ha! ha! it made me laugh when she said it, thatit did—she gave him a drink of laudanum.”

“Hell’s fire!” cried Sikes, breaking fiercely from the Jew.“Let me go!”

Flinging the old man from him, he rushed from the room, and darted, wildly andfuriously, up the stairs.

“Bill, Bill!” cried Fagin, following him hastily. “A word.Only a word.”

The word would not have been exchanged, but that the housebreaker was unable toopen the door: on which he was expending fruitless oaths and violence, when theJew came panting up.

“Let me out,” said Sikes. “Don’t speak to me;it’s not safe. Let me out, I say!”

“Hear me speak a word,” rejoined Fagin, laying his hand upon thelock. “You won’t be—”

“Well,” replied the other.

“You won’t be—too—violent, Bill?”

The day was breaking, and there was light enough for the men to see eachother’s faces. They exchanged one brief glance; there was a fire in theeyes of both, which could not be mistaken.

“I mean,” said Fagin, showing that he felt all disguise was nowuseless, “not too violent for safety. Be crafty, Bill, and not toobold.”

Sikes made no reply; but, pulling open the door, of which Fagin had turned thelock, dashed into the silent streets.

Without one pause, or moment’s consideration; without once turning hishead to the right or left, or raising his eyes to the sky, or lowering them tothe ground, but looking straight before him with savage resolution: his teethso tightly compressed that the strained jaw seemed starting through his skin;the robber held on his headlong course, nor muttered a word, nor relaxed amuscle, until he reached his own door. He opened it, softly, with a key; strodelightly up the stairs; and entering his own room, double-locked the door, andlifting a heavy table against it, drew back the curtain of the bed.

The girl was lying, half-dressed, upon it. He had roused her from her sleep,for she raised herself with a hurried and startled look.

“Get up!” said the man.

“It is you, Bill!” said the girl, with an expression of pleasure athis return.

“It is,” was the reply. “Get up.”

There was a candle burning, but the man hastily drew it from the candlestick,and hurled it under the grate. Seeing the faint light of early day without, thegirl rose to undraw the curtain.

“Let it be,” said Sikes, thrusting his hand before her.“There’s enough light for wot I’ve got to do.”

“Bill,” said the girl, in the low voice of alarm, “why do youlook like that at me!”

The robber sat regarding her, for a few seconds, with dilated nostrils andheaving breast; and then, grasping her by the head and throat, dragged her intothe middle of the room, and looking once towards the door, placed his heavyhand upon her mouth.

“Bill, Bill!” gasped the girl, wrestling with the strength ofmortal fear,—“I—I won’t scream or cry—notonce—hear me—speak to me—tell me what I have done!”

“You know, you she devil!” returned the robber, suppressing hisbreath. “You were watched to-night; every word you said was heard.”

“Then spare my life for the love of Heaven, as I spared yours,”rejoined the girl, clinging to him. “Bill, dear Bill, you cannot have theheart to kill me. Oh! think of all I have given up, only this one night, foryou. You shall have time to think, and save yourself this crime; I willnot loose my hold, you cannot throw me off. Bill, Bill, for dear God’ssake, for your own, for mine, stop before you spill my blood! I have been trueto you, upon my guilty soul I have!”

The man struggled violently, to release his arms; but those of the girl wereclasped round his, and tear her as he would, he could not tear them away.

“Bill,” cried the girl, striving to lay her head upon his breast,“the gentleman and that dear lady, told me to-night of a home in someforeign country where I could end my days in solitude and peace. Let me seethem again, and beg them, on my knees, to show the same mercy and goodness toyou; and let us both leave this dreadful place, and far apart lead betterlives, and forget how we have lived, except in prayers, and never see eachother more. It is never too late to repent. They told me so—I feel itnow—but we must have time—a little, little time!”

The housebreaker freed one arm, and grasped his pistol. The certainty ofimmediate detection if he fired, flashed across his mind even in the midst ofhis fury; and he beat it twice with all the force he could summon, upon theupturned face that almost touched his own.

She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that rained down from adeep gash in her forehead; but raising herself, with difficulty, on her knees,drew from her bosom a white handkerchief—Rose Maylie’sown—and holding it up, in her folded hands, as high towards Heaven as herfeeble strength would allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker.

It was a ghastly figure to look upon. The murderer staggering backward to thewall, and shutting out the sight with his hand, seized a heavy club and struckher down.

Of all bad deeds that, under cover of the darkness, had been committed withinwide London’s bounds since night hung over it, that was the worst. Of allthe horrors that rose with an ill scent upon the morning air, that was thefoulest and most cruel.

The sun—the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life,and hope, and freshness to man—burst upon the crowded city in clear andradiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, throughcathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray. It lighted up theroom where the murdered woman lay. It did. He tried to shut it out, but itwould stream in. If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, whatwas it, now, in all that brilliant light!

He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir. There had been a moan and motionof the hand; and, with terror added to rage, he had struck and struck again.Once he threw a rug over it; but it was worse to fancy the eyes, and imaginethem moving towards him, than to see them glaring upward, as if watching thereflection of the pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on theceiling. He had plucked it off again. And there was the body—mere fleshand blood, no more—but such flesh, and so much blood!

He struck a light, kindled a fire, and thrust the club into it. There was hairupon the end, which blazed and shrunk into a light cinder, and, caught by theair, whirled up the chimney. Even that frightened him, sturdy as he was; but heheld the weapon till it broke, and then piled it on the coals to burn away, andsmoulder into ashes. He washed himself, and rubbed his clothes; there werespots that would not be removed, but he cut the pieces out, and burnt them. Howthose stains were dispersed about the room! The very feet of the dog werebloody.

All this time he had, never once, turned his back upon the corpse; no, not fora moment. Such preparations completed, he moved, backward, towards the door:dragging the dog with him, lest he should soil his feet anew and carry out newevidence of the crime into the streets. He shut the door softly, locked it,took the key, and left the house.

He crossed over, and glanced up at the window, to be sure that nothing wasvisible from the outside. There was the curtain still drawn, which she wouldhave opened to admit the light she never saw again. It lay nearly under there.He knew that. God, how the sun poured down upon the very spot!

The glance was instantaneous. It was a relief to have got free of the room. Hewhistled on the dog, and walked rapidly away.

He went through Islington; strode up the hill at Highgate on which stands thestone in honour of Whittington; turned down to Highgate Hill, unsteady ofpurpose, and uncertain where to go; struck off to the right again, almost assoon as he began to descend it; and taking the foot-path across the fields,skirted Caen Wood, and so came on Hampstead Heath. Traversing the hollow by theVale of Heath, he mounted the opposite bank, and crossing the road which joinsthe villages of Hampstead and Highgate, made along the remaining portion of theheath to the fields at North End, in one of which he laid himself down under ahedge, and slept.

Soon he was up again, and away,—not far into the country, but backtowards London by the high-road—then back again—then over anotherpart of the same ground as he already traversed—then wandering up anddown in fields, and lying on ditches’ brinks to rest, and starting up tomake for some other spot, and do the same, and ramble on again.

Where could he go, that was near and not too public, to get some meat anddrink? Hendon. That was a good place, not far off, and out of mostpeople’s way. Thither he directed his steps,—running sometimes, andsometimes, with a strange perversity, loitering at a snail’s pace, orstopping altogether and idly breaking the hedges with a stick. But when he gotthere, all the people he met—the very children at the doors—seemedto view him with suspicion. Back he turned again, without the courage topurchase bit or drop, though he had tasted no food for many hours; and oncemore he lingered on the Heath, uncertain where to go.

He wandered over miles and miles of ground, and still came back to the oldplace. Morning and noon had passed, and the day was on the wane, and still herambled to and fro, and up and down, and round and round, and still lingeredabout the same spot. At last he got away, and shaped his course for Hatfield.

It was nine o’clock at night, when the man, quite tired out, and the dog,limping and lame from the unaccustomed exercise, turned down the hill by thechurch of the quiet village, and plodding along the little street, crept into asmall public-house, whose scanty light had guided them to the spot. There was afire in the tap-room, and some country-labourers were drinking before it.

They made room for the stranger, but he sat down in the furthest corner, andate and drank alone, or rather with his dog: to whom he cast a morsel of foodfrom time to time.

The conversation of the men assembled here, turned upon the neighbouring land,and farmers; and when those topics were exhausted, upon the age of some old manwho had been buried on the previous Sunday; the young men present consideringhim very old, and the old men present declaring him to have been quiteyoung—not older, one white-haired grandfather said, than hewas—with ten or fifteen year of life in him at least—if he hadtaken care; if he had taken care.

There was nothing to attract attention, or excite alarm in this. The robber,after paying his reckoning, sat silent and unnoticed in his corner, and hadalmost dropped asleep, when he was half wakened by the noisy entrance of a newcomer.

This was an antic fellow, half pedlar and half mountebank, who travelled aboutthe country on foot to vend hones, strops, razors, washballs, harness-paste,medicine for dogs and horses, cheap perfumery, cosmetics, and such-like wares,which he carried in a case slung to his back. His entrance was the signal forvarious homely jokes with the countrymen, which slackened not until he had madehis supper, and opened his box of treasures, when he ingeniously contrived tounite business with amusement.

“And what be that stoof? Good to eat, Harry?” asked a grinningcountryman, pointing to some composition-cakes in one corner.

“This,” said the fellow, producing one, “this is theinfallible and invaluable composition for removing all sorts of stain, rust,dirt, mildew, spick, speck, spot, or spatter, from silk, satin, linen, cambric,cloth, crape, stuff, carpet, merino, muslin, bombazeen, or woollen stuff.Wine-stains, fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains,pitch-stains, any stains, all come out at one rub with the infallible andinvaluable composition. If a lady stains her honour, she has only need toswallow one cake and she’s cured at once—for it’s poison. Ifa gentleman wants to prove this, he has only need to bolt one little square,and he has put it beyond question—for it’s quite as satisfactory asa pistol-bullet, and a great deal nastier in the flavour, consequently the morecredit in taking it. One penny a square. With all these virtues, one penny asquare!”

There were two buyers directly, and more of the listeners plainly hesitated.The vendor observing this, increased in loquacity.

“It’s all bought up as fast as it can be made,” said thefellow. “There are fourteen water-mills, six steam-engines, and agalvanic battery, always a-working upon it, and they can’t make it fastenough, though the men work so hard that they die off, and the widows ispensioned directly, with twenty pound a-year for each of the children, and apremium of fifty for twins. One penny a square! Two half-pence is all the same,and four farthings is received with joy. One penny a square! Wine-stains,fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains, pitch-stains,mud-stains, blood-stains! Here is a stain upon the hat of a gentleman incompany, that I’ll take clean out, before he can order me a pint ofale.”

“Hah!” cried Sikes starting up. “Give that back.”

“I’ll take it clean out, sir,” replied the man, winking tothe company, “before you can come across the room to get it. Gentlemenall, observe the dark stain upon this gentleman’s hat, no wider than ashilling, but thicker than a half-crown. Whether it is a wine-stain,fruit-stain, beer-stain, water-stain, paint-stain, pitch-stain, mud-stain, orblood-stain—”

The man got no further, for Sikes with a hideous imprecation overthrew thetable, and tearing the hat from him, burst out of the house.

With the same perversity of feeling and irresolution that had fastened uponhim, despite himself, all day, the murderer, finding that he was not followed,and that they most probably considered him some drunken sullen fellow, turnedback up the town, and getting out of the glare of the lamps of a stage-coachthat was standing in the street, was walking past, when he recognised the mailfrom London, and saw that it was standing at the little post-office. He almostknew what was to come; but he crossed over, and listened.

The guard was standing at the door, waiting for the letter-bag. A man, dressedlike a game-keeper, came up at the moment, and he handed him a basket which layready on the pavement.

“That’s for your people,” said the guard. “Now, lookalive in there, will you. Damn that ’ere bag, it warn’t ready nightafore last; this won’t do, you know!”

“Anything new up in town, Ben?” asked the game-keeper, drawing backto the window-shutters, the better to admire the horses.

“No, nothing that I knows on,” replied the man, pulling on hisgloves. “Corn’s up a little. I heerd talk of a murder, too, downSpitalfields way, but I don’t reckon much upon it.”

“Oh, that’s quite true,” said a gentleman inside, who waslooking out of the window. “And a dreadful murder it was.”

“Was it, sir?” rejoined the guard, touching his hat. “Man orwoman, pray, sir?”

“A woman,” replied the gentleman. “It issupposed—”

“Now, Ben,” replied the coachman impatiently.

“Damn that ’ere bag,” said the guard; “are you gone tosleep in there?”

“Coming!” cried the office keeper, running out.

“Coming,” growled the guard. “Ah, and so’s the young’ooman of property that’s going to take a fancy to me, but Idon’t know when. Here, give hold. All ri—ight!”

The horn sounded a few cheerful notes, and the coach was gone.

Sikes remained standing in the street, apparently unmoved by what he had justheard, and agitated by no stronger feeling than a doubt where to go. At lengthhe went back again, and took the road which leads from Hatfield to St. Albans.

He went on doggedly; but as he left the town behind him, and plunged into thesolitude and darkness of the road, he felt a dread and awe creeping upon himwhich shook him to the core. Every object before him, substance or shadow,still or moving, took the semblance of some fearful thing; but these fears werenothing compared to the sense that haunted him of that morning’s ghastlyfigure following at his heels. He could trace its shadow in the gloom, supplythe smallest item of the outline, and note how stiff and solemn it seemed tostalk along. He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and everybreath of wind came laden with that last low cry. If he stopped it did thesame. If he ran, it followed—not running too: that would have been arelief: but like a corpse endowed with the mere machinery of life, and borne onone slow melancholy wind that never rose or fell.

At times, he turned, with desperate determination, resolved to beat thisphantom off, though it should look him dead; but the hair rose on his head, andhis blood stood still, for it had turned with him and was behind him then. Hehad kept it before him that morning, but it was behind now—always. Heleaned his back against a bank, and felt that it stood above him, visibly outagainst the cold night-sky. He threw himself upon the road—on his backupon the road. At his head it stood, silent, erect, and still—a livinggrave-stone, with its epitaph in blood.

Let no man talk of murderers escaping justice, and hint that Providence mustsleep. There were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of thatagony of fear.

There was a shed in a field he passed, that offered shelter for the night.Before the door, were three tall poplar trees, which made it very dark within;and the wind moaned through them with a dismal wail. He could not walkon, till daylight came again; and here he stretched himself close to thewall—to undergo new torture.

For now, a vision came before him, as constant and more terrible than that fromwhich he had escaped. Those widely staring eyes, so lustreless and so glassy,that he had better borne to see them than think upon them, appeared in themidst of the darkness: light in themselves, but giving light to nothing. Therewere but two, but they were everywhere. If he shut out the sight, there camethe room with every well-known object—some, indeed, that he would haveforgotten, if he had gone over its contents from memory—each in itsaccustomed place. The body was in its place, and its eyes were as he sawthem when he stole away. He got up, and rushed into the field without. Thefigure was behind him. He re-entered the shed, and shrunk down once more. Theeyes were there, before he had laid himself along.

And here he remained in such terror as none but he can know, trembling in everylimb, and the cold sweat starting from every pore, when suddenly there aroseupon the night-wind the noise of distant shouting, and the roar of voicesmingled in alarm and wonder. Any sound of men in that lonely place, even thoughit conveyed a real cause of alarm, was something to him. He regained hisstrength and energy at the prospect of personal danger; and springing to hisfeet, rushed into the open air.

The broad sky seemed on fire. Rising into the air with showers of sparks, androlling one above the other, were sheets of flame, lighting the atmosphere formiles round, and driving clouds of smoke in the direction where he stood. Theshouts grew louder as new voices swelled the roar, and he could hear the cry ofFire! mingled with the ringing of an alarm-bell, the fall of heavy bodies, andthe crackling of flames as they twined round some new obstacle, and shot aloftas though refreshed by food. The noise increased as he looked. There werepeople there—men and women—light, bustle. It was like new life tohim. He darted onward—straight, headlong—dashing through brier andbrake, and leaping gate and fence as madly as his dog, who careered with loudand sounding bark before him.

He came upon the spot. There were half-dressed figures tearing to and fro, someendeavouring to drag the frightened horses from the stables, others driving thecattle from the yard and out-houses, and others coming laden from the burningpile, amidst a shower of falling sparks, and the tumbling down of red-hotbeams. The apertures, where doors and windows stood an hour ago, disclosed amass of raging fire; walls rocked and crumbled into the burning well; themolten lead and iron poured down, white hot, upon the ground. Women andchildren shrieked, and men encouraged each other with noisy shouts and cheers.The clanking of the engine-pumps, and the spirting and hissing of the water asit fell upon the blazing wood, added to the tremendous roar. He shouted, too,till he was hoarse; and flying from memory and himself, plunged into thethickest of the throng. Hither and thither he dived that night: now working atthe pumps, and now hurrying through the smoke and flame, but never ceasing toengage himself wherever noise and men were thickest. Up and down the ladders,upon the roofs of buildings, over floors that quaked and trembled with hisweight, under the lee of falling bricks and stones, in every part of that greatfire was he; but he bore a charmed life, and had neither scratch nor bruise,nor weariness nor thought, till morning dawned again, and only smoke andblackened ruins remained.

This mad excitement over, there returned, with ten-fold force, the dreadfulconsciousness of his crime. He looked suspiciously about him, for the men wereconversing in groups, and he feared to be the subject of their talk. The dogobeyed the significant beck of his finger, and they drew off, stealthily,together. He passed near an engine where some men were seated, and they calledto him to share in their refreshment. He took some bread and meat; and as hedrank a draught of beer, heard the firemen, who were from London, talking aboutthe murder. “He has gone to Birmingham, they say,” said one:“but they’ll have him yet, for the scouts are out, and by to-morrownight there’ll be a cry all through the country.”

He hurried off, and walked till he almost dropped upon the ground; then laydown in a lane, and had a long, but broken and uneasy sleep. He wandered onagain, irresolute and undecided, and oppressed with the fear of anothersolitary night.

Suddenly, he took the desperate resolution to going back to London.

“There’s somebody to speak to there, at all event,” hethought. “A good hiding-place, too. They’ll never expect to nab methere, after this country scent. Why can’t I lie by for a week or so,and, forcing blunt from Fagin, get abroad to France? Damme, I’ll riskit.”

He acted upon this impulse without delay, and choosing the least frequentedroads began his journey back, resolved to lie concealed within a short distanceof the metropolis, and, entering it at dusk by a circuitous route, to proceedstraight to that part of it which he had fixed on for his destination.

The dog, though. If any description of him were out, it would not be forgottenthat the dog was missing, and had probably gone with him. This might lead tohis apprehension as he passed along the streets. He resolved to drown him, andwalked on, looking about for a pond: picking up a heavy stone and tying it tohis handkerchief as he went.

The animal looked up into his master’s face while these preparations weremaking; whether his instinct apprehended something of their purpose, or therobber’s sidelong look at him was sterner than ordinary, he skulked alittle farther in the rear than usual, and cowered as he came more slowlyalong. When his master halted at the brink of a pool, and looked round to callhim, he stopped outright.

“Do you hear me call? Come here!” cried Sikes.

The animal came up from the very force of habit; but as Sikes stooped to attachthe handkerchief to his throat, he uttered a low growl and started back.

“Come back!” said the robber.

The dog wagged his tail, but moved not. Sikes made a running noose and calledhim again.

The dog advanced, retreated, paused an instant, and scoured away at his hardestspeed.

The man whistled again and again, and sat down and waited in the expectationthat he would return. But no dog appeared, and at length he resumed hisjourney.

The twilight was beginning to close in, when Mr. Brownlow alighted from ahackney-coach at his own door, and knocked softly. The door being opened, asturdy man got out of the coach and stationed himself on one side of the steps,while another man, who had been seated on the box, dismounted too, and stoodupon the other side. At a sign from Mr. Brownlow, they helped out a third man,and taking him between them, hurried him into the house. This man was Monks.

They walked in the same manner up the stairs without speaking, and Mr.Brownlow, preceding them, led the way into a back-room. At the door of thisapartment, Monks, who had ascended with evident reluctance, stopped. The twomen looked at the old gentleman as if for instructions.

“He knows the alternative,” said Mr. Browlow. “If hehesitates or moves a finger but as you bid him, drag him into the street, callfor the aid of the police, and impeach him as a felon in my name.”

“How dare you say this of me?” asked Monks.

“How dare you urge me to it, young man?” replied Mr. Brownlow,confronting him with a steady look. “Are you mad enough to leave thishouse? Unhand him. There, sir. You are free to go, and we to follow. But I warnyou, by all I hold most solemn and most sacred, that instant will have youapprehended on a charge of fraud and robbery. I am resolute and immoveable. Ifyou are determined to be the same, your blood be upon your own head!”

“By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here bythese dogs?” asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the men whostood beside him.

“By mine,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “Those persons areindemnified by me. If you complain of being deprived of your liberty—youhad power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along, but you deemed itadvisable to remain quiet—I say again, throw yourself for protection onthe law. I will appeal to the law too; but when you have gone too far torecede, do not sue to me for leniency, when the power will have passed intoother hands; and do not say I plunged you down the gulf into which you rushed,yourself.”

Monks was plainly disconcerted, and alarmed besides. He hesitated.

“You will decide quickly,” said Mr. Brownlow, with perfect firmnessand composure. “If you wish me to prefer my charges publicly, and consignyou to a punishment the extent of which, although I can, with a shudder,foresee, I cannot control, once more, I say, for you know the way. If not, andyou appeal to my forbearance, and the mercy of those you have deeply injured,seat yourself, without a word, in that chair. It has waited for you two wholedays.”

Monks muttered some unintelligible words, but wavered still.

“You will be prompt,” said Mr. Brownlow. “A word from me, andthe alternative has gone for ever.”

Still the man hesitated.

“I have not the inclination to parley,” said Mr. Brownlow,“and, as I advocate the dearest interests of others, I have not theright.”

“Is there—” demanded Monks with a falteringtongue,—“is there—no middle course?”

“None.”

Monks looked at the old gentleman, with an anxious eye; but, reading in hiscountenance nothing but severity and determination, walked into the room, and,shrugging his shoulders, sat down.

“Lock the door on the outside,” said Mr. Brownlow to theattendants, “and come when I ring.”

The men obeyed, and the two were left alone together.

“This is pretty treatment, sir,” said Monks, throwing down his hatand cloak, “from my father’s oldest friend.”

“It is because I was your father’s oldest friend, young man,”returned Mr. Brownlow; “it is because the hopes and wishes of young andhappy years were bound up with him, and that fair creature of his blood andkindred who rejoined her God in youth, and left me here a solitary, lonely man:it is because he knelt with me beside his only sisters’s death-bed whenhe was yet a boy, on the morning that would—but Heaven willedotherwise—have made her my young wife; it is because my seared heartclung to him, from that time forth, through all his trials and errors, till hedied; it is because old recollections and associations filled my heart, andeven the sight of you brings with it old thoughts of him; it is because of allthese things that I am moved to treat you gently now—yes, Edward Leeford,even now—and blush for your unworthiness who bear the name.”

“What has the name to do with it?” asked the other, aftercontemplating, half in silence, and half in dogged wonder, the agitation of hiscompanion. “What is the name to me?”

“Nothing,” replied Mr. Brownlow, “nothing to you. But it washers, and even at this distance of time brings back to me, an old man,the glow and thrill which I once felt, only to hear it repeated by a stranger.I am very glad you have changed it—very—very.”

“This is all mighty fine,” said Monks (to retain his assumeddesignation) after a long silence, during which he had jerked himself in sullendefiance to and fro, and Mr. Brownlow had sat, shading his face with his hand.“But what do you want with me?”

“You have a brother,” said Mr. Brownlow, rousing himself: “abrother, the whisper of whose name in your ear when I came behind you in thestreet, was, in itself, almost enough to make you accompany me hither, inwonder and alarm.”

“I have no brother,” replied Monks. “You know I was an onlychild. Why do you talk to me of brothers? You know that, as well as I.”

“Attend to what I do know, and you may not,” said Mr. Brownlow.“I shall interest you by and by. I know that of the wretched marriage,into which family pride, and the most sordid and narrowest of all ambition,forced your unhappy father when a mere boy, you were the sole and mostunnatural issue.”

“I don’t care for hard names,” interrupted Monks with ajeering laugh. “You know the fact, and that’s enough for me.”

“But I also know,” pursued the old gentleman, “the misery,the slow torture, the protracted anguish of that ill-assorted union. I know howlistlessly and wearily each of that wretched pair dragged on their heavy chainthrough a world that was poisoned to them both. I know how cold formalitieswere succeeded by open taunts; how indifference gave place to dislike, disliketo hate, and hate to loathing, until at last they wrenched the clanking bondasunder, and retiring a wide space apart, carried each a galling fragment, ofwhich nothing but death could break the rivets, to hide it in new societybeneath the gayest looks they could assume. Your mother succeeded; she forgotit soon. But it rusted and cankered at your father’s heart foryears.”

“Well, they were separated,” said Monks, “and what ofthat?”

“When they had been separated for some time,” returned Mr.Brownlow, “and your mother, wholly given up to continental frivolities,had utterly forgotten the young husband ten good years her junior, who, withprospects blighted, lingered on at home, he fell among new friends. Thiscircumstance, at least, you know already.”

“Not I,” said Monks, turning away his eyes and beating his footupon the ground, as a man who is determined to deny everything. “NotI.”

“Your manner, no less than your actions, assures me that you have neverforgotten it, or ceased to think of it with bitterness,” returned Mr.Brownlow. “I speak of fifteen years ago, when you were not more thaneleven years old, and your father but one-and-thirty—for he was, Irepeat, a boy, when his father ordered him to marry. Must I go back toevents which cast a shade upon the memory of your parent, or will you spare it,and disclose to me the truth?”

“I have nothing to disclose,” rejoined Monks. “You must talkon if you will.”

“These new friends, then,” said Mr. Brownlow, “were a navalofficer retired from active service, whose wife had died some half-a-yearbefore, and left him with two children—there had been more, but, of alltheir family, happily but two survived. They were both daughters; one abeautiful creature of nineteen, and the other a mere child of two or threeyears old.”

“What’s this to me?” asked Monks.

“They resided,” said Mr. Brownlow, without seeming to hear theinterruption, “in a part of the country to which your father in hiswandering had repaired, and where he had taken up his abode. Acquaintance,intimacy, friendship, fast followed on each other. Your father was gifted asfew men are. He had his sister’s soul and person. As the old officer knewhim more and more, he grew to love him. I would that it had ended there. Hisdaughter did the same.”

The old gentleman paused; Monks was biting his lips, with his eyes fixed uponthe floor; seeing this, he immediately resumed:

“The end of a year found him contracted, solemnly contracted, to thatdaughter; the object of the first, true, ardent, only passion of a guilelessgirl.”

“Your tale is of the longest,” observed Monks, moving restlessly inhis chair.

“It is a true tale of grief and trial, and sorrow, young man,”returned Mr. Brownlow, “and such tales usually are; if it were one ofunmixed joy and happiness, it would be very brief. At length one of those richrelations to strengthen whose interest and importance your father had beensacrificed, as others are often—it is no uncommon case—died, and torepair the misery he had been instrumental in occasioning, left him his panaceafor all griefs—Money. It was necessary that he should immediately repairto Rome, whither this man had sped for health, and where he had died, leavinghis affairs in great confusion. He went; was seized with mortal illness there;was followed, the moment the intelligence reached Paris, by your mother whocarried you with her; he died the day after her arrival, leaving nowill—no will—so that the whole property fell to her andyou.”

At this part of the recital Monks held his breath, and listened with a face ofintense eagerness, though his eyes were not directed towards the speaker. AsMr. Brownlow paused, he changed his position with the air of one who hasexperienced a sudden relief, and wiped his hot face and hands.

“Before he went abroad, and as he passed through London on hisway,” said Mr. Brownlow, slowly, and fixing his eyes upon theother’s face, “he came to me.”

“I never heard of that,” interrupted Monks in a tone intended toappear incredulous, but savouring more of disagreeable surprise.

“He came to me, and left with me, among some other things, apicture—a portrait painted by himself—a likeness of this poorgirl—which he did not wish to leave behind, and could not carry forwardon his hasty journey. He was worn by anxiety and remorse almost to a shadow;talked in a wild, distracted way, of ruin and dishonour worked by himself;confided to me his intention to convert his whole property, at any loss, intomoney, and, having settled on his wife and you a portion of his recentacquisition, to fly the country—I guessed too well he would not flyalone—and never see it more. Even from me, his old and early friend,whose strong attachment had taken root in the earth that covered one most dearto both—even from me he withheld any more particular confession,promising to write and tell me all, and after that to see me once again, forthe last time on earth. Alas! That was the last time. I had no letter,and I never saw him more.”

“I went,” said Mr. Brownlow, after a short pause, “I went,when all was over, to the scene of his—I will use the term the worldwould freely use, for worldly harshness or favour are now alike to him—ofhis guilty love, resolved that if my fears were realised that erring childshould find one heart and home to shelter and compassionate her. The family hadleft that part a week before; they had called in such trifling debts as wereoutstanding, discharged them, and left the place by night. Why, or whither,none can tell.”

Monks drew his breath yet more freely, and looked round with a smile oftriumph.

“When your brother,” said Mr. Brownlow, drawing nearer to theother’s chair, “When your brother: a feeble, ragged, neglectedchild: was cast in my way by a stronger hand than chance, and rescued by mefrom a life of vice and infamy—”

“What?” cried Monks.

“By me,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I told you I should interest youbefore long. I say by me—I see that your cunning associate suppressed myname, although for aught he knew, it would be quite strange to your ears. Whenhe was rescued by me, then, and lay recovering from sickness in my house, hisstrong resemblance to this picture I have spoken of, struck me withastonishment. Even when I first saw him in all his dirt and misery, there was alingering expression in his face that came upon me like a glimpse of some oldfriend flashing on one in a vivid dream. I need not tell you he was snared awaybefore I knew his history—”

“Why not?” asked Monks hastily.

“Because you know it well.”

“I!”

“Denial to me is vain,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “I shall showyou that I know more than that.”

“You—you—can’t prove anything against me,”stammered Monks. “I defy you to do it!”

“We shall see,” returned the old gentleman with a searching glance.“I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recover him. Your motherbeing dead, I knew that you alone could solve the mystery if anybody could, andas when I had last heard of you you were on your own estate in the WestIndies—whither, as you well know, you retired upon your mother’sdeath to escape the consequences of vicious courses here—I made thevoyage. You had left it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, butno one could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue to your residence.You came and went, they said, as strangely as you had ever done: sometimes fordays together and sometimes not for months: keeping to all appearance the samelow haunts and mingling with the same infamous herd who had been yourassociates when a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with newapplications. I paced the streets by night and day, but until two hours ago,all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw you for an instant.”

“And now you do see me,” said Monks, rising boldly, “whatthen? Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words—justified, you think, bya fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of a dead man’sBrother! You don’t even know that a child was born of this maudlin pair;you don’t even know that.”

“I did not,” replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; “butwithin the last fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; you knowit, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed, leaving the secretand the gain to you at her own death. It contained a reference to some childlikely to be the result of this sad connection, which child was born, andaccidentally encountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened byhis resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of his birth. Thereexisted proofs—proofs long suppressed—of his birth and parentage.Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, in your own words to youraccomplice the Jew, ‘the only proofs of the boy’s identity lieat the bottom of the river, and the old hag that received them from the motheris rotting in her coffin.’ Unworthy son, coward, liar,—you, whohold your councils with thieves and murderers in dark rooms atnight,—you, whose plots and wiles have brought a violent death upon thehead of one worth millions such as you,—you, who from your cradle weregall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and in whom all evilpassions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a vent in a hideousdisease which had made your face an index even to your mind—you, EdwardLeeford, do you still brave me!”

“No, no, no!” returned the coward, overwhelmed by these accumulatedcharges.

“Every word!” cried the gentleman, “every word that haspassed between you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadows on thewall have caught your whispers, and brought them to my ear; the sight of thepersecuted child has turned vice itself, and given it the courage and almostthe attributes of virtue. Murder has been done, to which you were morally ifnot really a party.”

“No, no,” interposed Monks. “I—I knew nothing of that;I was going to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. Ididn’t know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.”

“It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,” replied Mr.Brownlow. “Will you disclose the whole?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat it beforewitnesses?”

“That I promise too.”

“Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, and proceed withme to such a place as I may deem most advisable, for the purpose of attestingit?”

“If you insist upon that, I’ll do that also,” replied Monks.

“You must do more than that,” said Mr. Brownlow. “Makerestitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is, although theoffspring of a guilty and most miserable love. You have not forgotten theprovisions of the will. Carry them into execution so far as your brother isconcerned, and then go where you please. In this world you need meet nomore.”

While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evil looks on thisproposal and the possibilities of evading it: torn by his fears on the one handand his hatred on the other: the door was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman(Mr. Losberne) entered the room in violent agitation.

“The man will be taken,” he cried. “He will be takento-night!”

“The murderer?” asked Mr. Brownlow.

“Yes, yes,” replied the other. “His dog has been seen lurkingabout some old haunt, and there seems little doubt that his master either is,or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spies are hovering about inevery direction. I have spoken to the men who are charged with his capture, andthey tell me he cannot escape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed byGovernment to-night.”

“I will give fifty more,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and proclaim itwith my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr. Maylie?”

“Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coach withyou, he hurried off to where he heard this,” replied the doctor,“and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the first party at someplace in the outskirts agreed upon between them.”

“Fagin,” said Mr. Brownlow; “what of him?”

“When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is, by thistime. They’re sure of him.”

“Have you made up your mind?” asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice,of Monks.

“Yes,” he replied. “You—you—will be secret withme?”

“I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope ofsafety.”

They left the room, and the door was again locked.

“What have you done?” asked the doctor in a whisper.

“All that I could hope to do, and even more. Coupling the poorgirl’s intelligence with my previous knowledge, and the result of ourgood friend’s inquiries on the spot, I left him no loophole of escape,and laid bare the whole villainy which by these lights became plain as day.Write and appoint the evening after to-morrow, at seven, for the meeting. Weshall be down there, a few hours before, but shall require rest: especially theyoung lady, who may have greater need of firmness than either you or Ican quite foresee just now. But my blood boils to avenge this poor murderedcreature. Which way have they taken?”

“Drive straight to the office and you will be in time,” replied Mr.Losberne. “I will remain here.”

The two gentlemen hastily separated; each in a fever of excitement whollyuncontrollable.

Near to that part of the Thames on which the church at Rotherhithe abuts, wherethe buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackestwith the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low-roofed houses, thereexists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the manylocalities that are hidden in London, wholly unknown, even by name, to thegreat mass of its inhabitants.

To reach this place, the visitor has to penetrate through a maze of close,narrow, and muddy streets, thronged by the roughest and poorest of watersidepeople, and devoted to the traffic they may be supposed to occasion. Thecheapest and least delicate provisions are heaped in the shops; the coarsestand commonest articles of wearing apparel dangle at the salesman’s door,and stream from the house-parapet and windows. Jostling with unemployedlabourers of the lowest class, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women,ragged children, and the raff and refuse of the river, he makes his way withdifficulty along, assailed by offensive sights and smells from the narrowalleys which branch off on the right and left, and deafened by the clash ofponderous waggons that bear great piles of merchandise from the stacks ofwarehouses that rise from every corner. Arriving, at length, in streets remoterand less-frequented than those through which he has passed, he walks beneathtottering house-fronts projecting over the pavement, dismantled walls that seemto totter as he passes, chimneys half crushed half hesitating to fall, windowsguarded by rusty iron bars that time and dirt have almost eaten away, everyimaginable sign of desolation and neglect.

In such a neighborhood, beyond Dockhead in the Borough of Southwark, standsJacob’s Island, surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep andfifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known inthe days of this story as Folly Ditch. It is a creek or inlet from the Thames,and can always be filled at high water by opening the sluices at the Lead Millsfrom which it took its old name. At such times, a stranger, looking from one ofthe wooden bridges thrown across it at Mill Lane, will see the inhabitants ofthe houses on either side lowering from their back doors and windows, buckets,pails, domestic utensils of all kinds, in which to haul the water up; and whenhis eye is turned from these operations to the houses themselves, his utmostastonishment will be excited by the scene before him. Crazy wooden galleriescommon to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look uponthe slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on whichto dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined,that the air would seem too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which theyshelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud, andthreatening to fall into it—as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls anddecaying foundations; every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsomeindication of filth, rot, and garbage; all these ornament the banks of FollyDitch.

In Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls arecrumbling down; the windows are windows no more; the doors are falling into thestreets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke. Thirty or fortyyears ago, before losses and chancery suits came upon it, it was a thrivingplace; but now it is a desolate island indeed. The houses have no owners; theyare broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there theylive, and there they die. They must have powerful motives for a secretresidence, or be reduced to a destitute condition indeed, who seek a refuge inJacob’s Island.

In an upper room of one of these houses—a detached house of fair size,ruinous in other respects, but strongly defended at door and window: of whichhouse the back commanded the ditch in manner already described—there wereassembled three men, who, regarding each other every now and then with looksexpressive of perplexity and expectation, sat for some time in profound andgloomy silence. One of these was Toby Crackit, another Mr. Chitling, and thethird a robber of fifty years, whose nose had been almost beaten in, in someold scuffle, and whose face bore a frightful scar which might probably betraced to the same occasion. This man was a returned transport, and his namewas Kags.

“I wish,” said Toby turning to Mr. Chitling, “that you hadpicked out some other crib when the two old ones got too warm, and had not comehere, my fine feller.”

“Why didn’t you, blunder-head!” said Kags.

“Well, I thought you’d have been a little more glad to see me thanthis,” replied Mr. Chitling, with a melancholy air.

“Why, look’e, young gentleman,” said Toby, “when a mankeeps himself so very ex-clusive as I have done, and by that means has a snughouse over his head with nobody a prying and smelling about it, it’srather a startling thing to have the honour of a wisit from a young gentleman(however respectable and pleasant a person he may be to play cards with atconweniency) circumstanced as you are.”

“Especially, when the exclusive young man has got a friend stopping withhim, that’s arrived sooner than was expected from foreign parts, and istoo modest to want to be presented to the Judges on his return,” addedMr. Kags.

There was a short silence, after which Toby Crackit, seeming to abandon ashopeless any further effort to maintain his usual devil-may-care swagger,turned to Chitling and said,

“When was Fagin took then?”

“Just at dinner-time—two o’clock this afternoon. Charley andI made our lucky up the wash-us chimney, and Bolter got into the emptywater-butt, head downwards; but his legs were so precious long that they stuckout at the top, and so they took him too.”

“And Bet?”

“Poor Bet! She went to see the Body, to speak to who it was,”replied Chitling, his countenance falling more and more, “and went offmad, screaming and raving, and beating her head against the boards; so they puta strait-weskut on her and took her to the hospital—and there sheis.”

“Wot’s come of young Bates?” demanded Kags.

“He hung about, not to come over here afore dark, but he’ll be heresoon,” replied Chitling. “There’s nowhere else to go to now,for the people at the Cripples are all in custody, and the bar of theken—I went up there and see it with my own eyes—is filled withtraps.”

“This is a smash,” observed Toby, biting his lips.“There’s more than one will go with this.”

“The sessions are on,” said Kags: “if they get the inquestover, and Bolter turns King’s evidence: as of course he will, from whathe’s said already: they can prove Fagin an accessory before the fact, andget the trial on on Friday, and he’ll swing in six days from this, byG—!”

“You should have heard the people groan,” said Chitling; “theofficers fought like devils, or they’d have torn him away. He was downonce, but they made a ring round him, and fought their way along. You shouldhave seen how he looked about him, all muddy and bleeding, and clung to them asif they were his dearest friends. I can see ’em now, not able to standupright with the pressing of the mob, and draggin him along amongst ’em;I can see the people jumping up, one behind another, and snarling with theirteeth and making at him; I can see the blood upon his hair and beard, and hearthe cries with which the women worked themselves into the centre of the crowdat the street corner, and swore they’d tear his heart out!”

The horror-stricken witness of this scene pressed his hands upon his ears, andwith his eyes closed got up and paced violently to and fro, like onedistracted.

While he was thus engaged, and the two men sat by in silence with their eyesfixed upon the floor, a pattering noise was heard upon the stairs, andSikes’s dog bounded into the room. They ran to the window, downstairs,and into the street. The dog had jumped in at an open window; he made noattempt to follow them, nor was his master to be seen.

“What’s the meaning of this?” said Toby when they hadreturned. “He can’t be coming here. I—I—hopenot.”

“If he was coming here, he’d have come with the dog,” saidKags, stooping down to examine the animal, who lay panting on the floor.“Here! Give us some water for him; he has run himself faint.”

“He’s drunk it all up, every drop,” said Chitling afterwatching the dog some time in silence. “Covered withmud—lame—half blind—he must have come a long way.”

“Where can he have come from!” exclaimed Toby. “He’sbeen to the other kens of course, and finding them filled with strangers comeon here, where he’s been many a time and often. But where can he havecome from first, and how comes he here alone without the other!”

“He”—(none of them called the murderer by his oldname)—“He can’t have made away with himself. What do youthink?” said Chitling.

Toby shook his head.

“If he had,” said Kags, “the dog ’ud want to lead usaway to where he did it. No. I think he’s got out of the country, andleft the dog behind. He must have given him the slip somehow, or hewouldn’t be so easy.”

This solution, appearing the most probable one, was adopted as the right; thedog, creeping under a chair, coiled himself up to sleep, without more noticefrom anybody.

It being now dark, the shutter was closed, and a candle lighted and placed uponthe table. The terrible events of the last two days had made a deep impressionon all three, increased by the danger and uncertainty of their own position.They drew their chairs closer together, starting at every sound. They spokelittle, and that in whispers, and were as silent and awe-stricken as if theremains of the murdered woman lay in the next room.

They had sat thus, some time, when suddenly was heard a hurried knocking at thedoor below.

“Young Bates,” said Kags, looking angrily round, to check the fearhe felt himself.

The knocking came again. No, it wasn’t he. He never knocked like that.

Crackit went to the window, and shaking all over, drew in his head. There wasno need to tell them who it was; his pale face was enough. The dog too was onthe alert in an instant, and ran whining to the door.

“We must let him in,” he said, taking up the candle.

“Isn’t there any help for it?” asked the other man in ahoarse voice.

“None. He must come in.”

“Don’t leave us in the dark,” said Kags, taking down a candlefrom the chimney-piece, and lighting it, with such a trembling hand that theknocking was twice repeated before he had finished.

Crackit went down to the door, and returned followed by a man with the lowerpart of his face buried in a handkerchief, and another tied over his head underhis hat. He drew them slowly off. Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks,beard of three days’ growth, wasted flesh, short thick breath; it was thevery ghost of Sikes.

He laid his hand upon a chair which stood in the middle of the room, butshuddering as he was about to drop into it, and seeming to glance over hisshoulder, dragged it back close to the wall—as close as it wouldgo—and ground it against it—and sat down.

Not a word had been exchanged. He looked from one to another in silence. If aneye were furtively raised and met his, it was instantly averted. When hishollow voice broke silence, they all three started. They seemed never to haveheard its tones before.

“How came that dog here?” he asked.

“Alone. Three hours ago.”

“To-night’s paper says that Fagin’s took. Is it true, or alie?”

“True.”

They were silent again.

“Damn you all!” said Sikes, passing his hand across his forehead.“Have you nothing to say to me?”

There was an uneasy movement among them, but nobody spoke.

“You that keep this house,” said Sikes, turning his face toCrackit, “do you mean to sell me, or to let me lie here till this hunt isover?”

“You may stop here, if you think it safe,” returned the personaddressed, after some hesitation.

Sikes carried his eyes slowly up the wall behind him: rather trying to turn hishead than actually doing it: and said, “Is—it—thebody—is it buried?”

They shook their heads.

“Why isn’t it!” he retorted with the same glance behind him.“Wot do they keep such ugly things above the groundfor?—Who’s that knocking?”

Crackit intimated, by a motion of his hand as he left the room, that there wasnothing to fear; and directly came back with Charley Bates behind him. Sikessat opposite the door, so that the moment the boy entered the room heencountered his figure.

“Toby,” said the boy falling back, as Sikes turned his eyes towardshim, “why didn’t you tell me this, downstairs?”

There had been something so tremendous in the shrinking off of the three, thatthe wretched man was willing to propitiate even this lad. Accordingly henodded, and made as though he would shake hands with him.

“Let me go into some other room,” said the boy, retreating stillfarther.

“Charley!” said Sikes, stepping forward. “Don’tyou—don’t you know me?”

“Don’t come nearer me,” answered the boy, still retreating,and looking, with horror in his eyes, upon the murderer’s face.“You monster!”

The man stopped half-way, and they looked at each other; but Sikes’s eyessunk gradually to the ground.

“Witness you three,” cried the boy shaking his clenched fist, andbecoming more and more excited as he spoke. “Witness youthree—I’m not afraid of him—if they come here after him,I’ll give him up; I will. I tell you out at once. He may kill me for itif he likes, or if he dares, but if I am here I’ll give him up. I’dgive him up if he was to be boiled alive. Murder! Help! If there’s thepluck of a man among you three, you’ll help me. Murder! Help! Down withhim!”

Pouring out these cries, and accompanying them with violent gesticulation, theboy actually threw himself, single-handed, upon the strong man, and in theintensity of his energy and the suddenness of his surprise, brought him heavilyto the ground.

The three spectators seemed quite stupefied. They offered no interference, andthe boy and man rolled on the ground together; the former, heedless of theblows that showered upon him, wrenching his hands tighter and tighter in thegarments about the murderer’s breast, and never ceasing to call for helpwith all his might.

The contest, however, was too unequal to last long. Sikes had him down, and hisknee was on his throat, when Crackit pulled him back with a look of alarm, andpointed to the window. There were lights gleaming below, voices in loud andearnest conversation, the tramp of hurried footsteps—endless they seemedin number—crossing the nearest wooden bridge. One man on horseback seemedto be among the crowd; for there was the noise of hoofs rattling on the unevenpavement. The gleam of lights increased; the footsteps came more thickly andnoisily on. Then, came a loud knocking at the door, and then a hoarse murmurfrom such a multitude of angry voices as would have made the boldest quail.

“Help!” shrieked the boy in a voice that rent the air.“He’s here! Break down the door!”

“In the King’s name,” cried the voices without; and thehoarse cry arose again, but louder.

“Break down the door!” screamed the boy. “I tell youthey’ll never open it. Run straight to the room where the light is. Breakdown the door!”

Strokes, thick and heavy, rattled upon the door and lower window-shutters as heceased to speak, and a loud huzzah burst from the crowd; giving the listener,for the first time, some adequate idea of its immense extent.

“Open the door of some place where I can lock this screechingHell-babe,” cried Sikes fiercely; running to and fro, and dragging theboy, now, as easily as if he were an empty sack. “That door.Quick!” He flung him in, bolted it, and turned the key. “Is thedownstairs door fast?”

“Double-locked and chained,” replied Crackit, who, with the othertwo men, still remained quite helpless and bewildered.

“The panels—are they strong?”

“Lined with sheet-iron.”

“And the windows too?”

“Yes, and the windows.”

“Damn you!” cried the desperate ruffian, throwing up the sash andmenacing the crowd. “Do your worst! I’ll cheat you yet!”

Of all the terrific yells that ever fell on mortal ears, none could exceed thecry of the infuriated throng. Some shouted to those who were nearest to set thehouse on fire; others roared to the officers to shoot him dead. Among them all,none showed such fury as the man on horseback, who, throwing himself out of thesaddle, and bursting through the crowd as if he were parting water, cried,beneath the window, in a voice that rose above all others, “Twentyguineas to the man who brings a ladder!”

The nearest voices took up the cry, and hundreds echoed it. Some called forladders, some for sledge-hammers; some ran with torches to and fro as if toseek them, and still came back and roared again; some spent their breath inimpotent curses and execrations; some pressed forward with the ecstasy ofmadmen, and thus impeded the progress of those below; some among the boldestattempted to climb up by the water-spout and crevices in the wall; and allwaved to and fro, in the darkness beneath, like a field of corn moved by anangry wind: and joined from time to time in one loud furious roar.

“The tide,” cried the murderer, as he staggered back into the room,and shut the faces out, “the tide was in as I came up. Give me a rope, along rope. They’re all in front. I may drop into the Folly Ditch, andclear off that way. Give me a rope, or I shall do three more murders and killmyself.”

The panic-stricken men pointed to where such articles were kept; the murderer,hastily selecting the longest and strongest cord, hurried up to the house-top.

All the windows in the rear of the house had been long ago bricked up, exceptone small trap in the room where the boy was locked, and that was too smalleven for the passage of his body. But, from this aperture, he had never ceasedto call on those without, to guard the back; and thus, when the murdereremerged at last on the house-top by the door in the roof, a loud shoutproclaimed the fact to those in front, who immediately began to pour round,pressing upon each other in an unbroken stream.

He planted a board, which he had carried up with him for the purpose, so firmlyagainst the door that it must be matter of great difficulty to open it from theinside; and creeping over the tiles, looked over the low parapet.

The water was out, and the ditch a bed of mud.

The crowd had been hushed during these few moments, watching his motions anddoubtful of his purpose, but the instant they perceived it and knew it wasdefeated, they raised a cry of triumphant execration to which all theirprevious shouting had been whispers. Again and again it rose. Those who were attoo great a distance to know its meaning, took up the sound; it echoed andre-echoed; it seemed as though the whole city had poured its population out tocurse him.

On pressed the people from the front—on, on, on, in a strong strugglingcurrent of angry faces, with here and there a glaring torch to lighten them up,and show them out in all their wrath and passion. The houses on the oppositeside of the ditch had been entered by the mob; sashes were thrown up, or tornbodily out; there were tiers and tiers of faces in every window; cluster uponcluster of people clinging to every house-top. Each little bridge (and therewere three in sight) bent beneath the weight of the crowd upon it. Still thecurrent poured on to find some nook or hole from which to vent their shouts,and only for an instant see the wretch.

“They have him now,” cried a man on the nearest bridge.“Hurrah!”

The crowd grew light with uncovered heads; and again the shout uprose.

“I will give fifty pounds,” cried an old gentleman from the samequarter, “to the man who takes him alive. I will remain here, till hecome to ask me for it.”

There was another roar. At this moment the word was passed among the crowd thatthe door was forced at last, and that he who had first called for the ladderhad mounted into the room. The stream abruptly turned, as this intelligence ranfrom mouth to mouth; and the people at the windows, seeing those upon thebridges pouring back, quitted their stations, and running into the street,joined the concourse that now thronged pell-mell to the spot they had left:each man crushing and striving with his neighbor, and all panting withimpatience to get near the door, and look upon the criminal as the officersbrought him out. The cries and shrieks of those who were pressed almost tosuffocation, or trampled down and trodden under foot in the confusion, weredreadful; the narrow ways were completely blocked up; and at this time, betweenthe rush of some to regain the space in front of the house, and the unavailingstruggles of others to extricate themselves from the mass, the immediateattention was distracted from the murderer, although the universal eagernessfor his capture was, if possible, increased.

The man had shrunk down, thoroughly quelled by the ferocity of the crowd, andthe impossibility of escape; but seeing this sudden change with no lessrapidity than it had occurred, he sprang upon his feet, determined to make onelast effort for his life by dropping into the ditch, and, at the risk of beingstifled, endeavouring to creep away in the darkness and confusion.

Roused into new strength and energy, and stimulated by the noise within thehouse which announced that an entrance had really been effected, he set hisfoot against the stack of chimneys, fastened one end of the rope tightly andfirmly round it, and with the other made a strong running noose by the aid ofhis hands and teeth almost in a second. He could let himself down by the cordto within a less distance of the ground than his own height, and had his knifeready in his hand to cut it then and drop.

At the very instant when he brought the loop over his head previous to slippingit beneath his arm-pits, and when the old gentleman before-mentioned (who hadclung so tight to the railing of the bridge as to resist the force of thecrowd, and retain his position) earnestly warned those about him that the manwas about to lower himself down—at that very instant the murderer,looking behind him on the roof, threw his arms above his head, and uttered ayell of terror.

“The eyes again!” he cried in an unearthly screech.

Staggering as if struck by lightning, he lost his balance and tumbled over theparapet. The noose was on his neck. It ran up with his weight, tight as abow-string, and swift as the arrow it speeds. He fell for five-and-thirty feet.There was a sudden jerk, a terrific convulsion of the limbs; and there he hung,with the open knife clenched in his stiffening hand.

The old chimney quivered with the shock, but stood it bravely. The murdererswung lifeless against the wall; and the boy, thrusting aside the dangling bodywhich obscured his view, called to the people to come and take him out, forGod’s sake.

A dog, which had lain concealed till now, ran backwards and forwards on theparapet with a dismal howl, and collecting himself for a spring, jumped for thedead man’s shoulders. Missing his aim, he fell into the ditch, turningcompletely over as he went; and striking his head against a stone, dashed outhis brains.

The events narrated in the last chapter were yet but two days old, when Oliverfound himself, at three o’clock in the afternoon, in atravelling-carriage rolling fast towards his native town. Mrs. Maylie, andRose, and Mrs. Bedwin, and the good doctor were with him: and Mr. Brownlowfollowed in a post-chaise, accompanied by one other person whose name had notbeen mentioned.

They had not talked much upon the way; for Oliver was in a flutter of agitationand uncertainty which deprived him of the power of collecting his thoughts, andalmost of speech, and appeared to have scarcely less effect on his companions,who shared it, in at least an equal degree. He and the two ladies had been verycarefully made acquainted by Mr. Brownlow with the nature of the admissionswhich had been forced from Monks; and although they knew that the object oftheir present journey was to complete the work which had been so well begun,still the whole matter was enveloped in enough of doubt and mystery to leavethem in endurance of the most intense suspense.

The same kind friend had, with Mr. Losberne’s assistance, cautiouslystopped all channels of communication through which they could receiveintelligence of the dreadful occurrences that so recently taken place.“It was quite true,” he said, “that they must know thembefore long, but it might be at a better time than the present, and it couldnot be at a worse.” So, they travelled on in silence: each busied withreflections on the object which had brought them together: and no one disposedto give utterance to the thoughts which crowded upon all.

But if Oliver, under these influences, had remained silent while they journeyedtowards his birth-place by a road he had never seen, how the whole current ofhis recollections ran back to old times, and what a crowd of emotions werewakened up in his breast, when they turned into that which he had traversed onfoot: a poor houseless, wandering boy, without a friend to help him, or a roofto shelter his head.

“See there, there!” cried Oliver, eagerly clasping the hand ofRose, and pointing out at the carriage window; “that’s the stile Icame over; there are the hedges I crept behind, for fear any one shouldovertake me and force me back! Yonder is the path across the fields, leading tothe old house where I was a little child! Oh Dick, Dick, my dear old friend, ifI could only see you now!”

“You will see him soon,” replied Rose, gently taking his foldedhands between her own. “You shall tell him how happy you are, and howrich you have grown, and that in all your happiness you have none so great asthe coming back to make him happy too.”

“Yes, yes,” said Oliver, “and we’ll—we’lltake him away from here, and have him clothed and taught, and send him to somequiet country place where he may grow strong and well,—shall we?”

Rose nodded “yes,” for the boy was smiling through such happy tearsthat she could not speak.

“You will be kind and good to him, for you are to every one,” saidOliver. “It will make you cry, I know, to hear what he can tell; butnever mind, never mind, it will be all over, and you will smile again—Iknow that too—to think how changed he is; you did the same with me. Hesaid ‘God bless you’ to me when I ran away,” cried the boywith a burst of affectionate emotion; “and I will say ‘God blessyou’ now, and show him how I love him for it!”

As they approached the town, and at length drove through its narrow streets, itbecame matter of no small difficulty to restrain the boy within reasonablebounds. There was Sowerberry’s the undertaker’s just as it used tobe, only smaller and less imposing in appearance than he rememberedit—there were all the well-known shops and houses, with almost every oneof which he had some slight incident connected—there was Gamfield’scart, the very cart he used to have, standing at the old public-housedoor—there was the workhouse, the dreary prison of his youthful days,with its dismal windows frowning on the street—there was the same leanporter standing at the gate, at sight of whom Oliver involuntarily shrunk back,and then laughed at himself for being so foolish, then cried, then laughedagain—there were scores of faces at the doors and windows that he knewquite well—there was nearly everything as if he had left it butyesterday, and all his recent life had been but a happy dream.

But it was pure, earnest, joyful reality. They drove straight to the door ofthe chief hotel (which Oliver used to stare up at, with awe, and think a mightypalace, but which had somehow fallen off in grandeur and size); and here wasMr. Grimwig all ready to receive them, kissing the young lady, and the old onetoo, when they got out of the coach, as if he were the grandfather of the wholeparty, all smiles and kindness, and not offering to eat his head—no, notonce; not even when he contradicted a very old postboy about the nearest roadto London, and maintained he knew it best, though he had only come that wayonce, and that time fast asleep. There was dinner prepared, and there werebedrooms ready, and everything was arranged as if by magic.

Notwithstanding all this, when the hurry of the first half-hour was over, thesame silence and constraint prevailed that had marked their journey down. Mr.Brownlow did not join them at dinner, but remained in a separate room. The twoother gentlemen hurried in and out with anxious faces, and, during the shortintervals when they were present, conversed apart. Once, Mrs. Maylie was calledaway, and after being absent for nearly an hour, returned with eyes swollenwith weeping. All these things made Rose and Oliver, who were not in any newsecrets, nervous and uncomfortable. They sat wondering, in silence; or, if theyexchanged a few words, spoke in whispers, as if they were afraid to hear thesound of their own voices.

At length, when nine o’clock had come, and they began to think they wereto hear no more that night, Mr. Losberne and Mr. Grimwig entered the room,followed by Mr. Brownlow and a man whom Oliver almost shrieked with surprise tosee; for they told him it was his brother, and it was the same man he had metat the market-town, and seen looking in with Fagin at the window of his littleroom. Monks cast a look of hate, which, even then, he could not dissemble, atthe astonished boy, and sat down near the door. Mr. Brownlow, who had papers inhis hand, walked to a table near which Rose and Oliver were seated.

“This is a painful task,” said he, “but these declarations,which have been signed in London before many gentlemen, must be in substancerepeated here. I would have spared you the degradation, but we must hear themfrom your own lips before we part, and you know why.”

“Go on,” said the person addressed, turning away his face.“Quick. I have almost done enough, I think. Don’t keep mehere.”

“This child,” said Mr. Brownlow, drawing Oliver to him, and layinghis hand upon his head, “is your half-brother; the illegitimate son ofyour father, my dear friend Edwin Leeford, by poor young Agnes Fleming, whodied in giving him birth.”

“Yes,” said Monks, scowling at the trembling boy: the beating ofwhose heart he might have heard. “That is the bastard child.”

“The term you use,” said Mr. Brownlow, sternly, “is areproach to those long since passed beyond the feeble censure of the world. Itreflects disgrace on no one living, except you who use it. Let that pass. Hewas born in this town.”

“In the workhouse of this town,” was the sullen reply. “Youhave the story there.” He pointed impatiently to the papers as he spoke.

“I must have it here, too,” said Mr. Brownlow, looking round uponthe listeners.

“Listen then! You!” returned Monks. “His father being takenill at Rome, was joined by his wife, my mother, from whom he had been longseparated, who went from Paris and took me with her—to look after hisproperty, for what I know, for she had no great affection for him, nor he forher. He knew nothing of us, for his senses were gone, and he slumbered on tillnext day, when he died. Among the papers in his desk, were two, dated on thenight his illness first came on, directed to yourself”; he addressedhimself to Mr. Brownlow; “and enclosed in a few short lines to you, withan intimation on the cover of the package that it was not to be forwarded tillafter he was dead. One of these papers was a letter to this girl Agnes; theother a will.”

“What of the letter?” asked Mr. Brownlow.

“The letter?—A sheet of paper crossed and crossed again, with apenitent confession, and prayers to God to help her. He had palmed a tale onthe girl that some secret mystery—to be explained one day—preventedhis marrying her just then; and so she had gone on, trusting patiently to him,until she trusted too far, and lost what none could ever give her back. Shewas, at that time, within a few months of her confinement. He told her all hehad meant to do, to hide her shame, if he had lived, and prayed her, if hedied, not to curse his memory, or think the consequences of their sin would bevisited on her or their young child; for all the guilt was his. He reminded herof the day he had given her the little locket and the ring with her christianname engraved upon it, and a blank left for that which he hoped one day to havebestowed upon her—prayed her yet to keep it, and wear it next her heart,as she had done before—and then ran on, wildly, in the same words, overand over again, as if he had gone distracted. I believe he had.”

“The will,” said Mr. Brownlow, as Oliver’s tears fell fast.

Monks was silent.

“The will,” said Mr. Brownlow, speaking for him, “was in thesame spirit as the letter. He talked of miseries which his wife had broughtupon him; of the rebellious disposition, vice, malice, and premature badpassions of you his only son, who had been trained to hate him; and left you,and your mother, each an annuity of eight hundred pounds. The bulk of hisproperty he divided into two equal portions—one for Agnes Fleming, andthe other for their child, if it should be born alive, and ever come of age. Ifit were a girl, it was to inherit the money unconditionally; but if a boy, onlyon the stipulation that in his minority he should never have stained his namewith any public act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong. He did this,he said, to mark his confidence in the mother, and his conviction—onlystrengthened by approaching death—that the child would share her gentleheart, and noble nature. If he were disappointed in this expectation, then themoney was to come to you: for then, and not till then, when both children wereequal, would he recognise your prior claim upon his purse, who had none uponhis heart, but had, from an infant, repulsed him with coldness andaversion.”

“My mother,” said Monks, in a louder tone, “did what a womanshould have done. She burnt this will. The letter never reached itsdestination; but that, and other proofs, she kept, in case they ever tried tolie away the blot. The girl’s father had the truth from her with everyaggravation that her violent hate—I love her for it now—could add.Goaded by shame and dishonour he fled with his children into a remote corner ofWales, changing his very name that his friends might never know of his retreat;and here, no great while afterwards, he was found dead in his bed. The girl hadleft her home, in secret, some weeks before; he had searched for her, on foot,in every town and village near; it was on the night when he returned home,assured that she had destroyed herself, to hide her shame and his, that his oldheart broke.”

There was a short silence here, until Mr. Brownlow took up the thread of thenarrative.

“Years after this,” he said, “this man’s—EdwardLeeford’s—mother came to me. He had left her, when only eighteen;robbed her of jewels and money; gambled, squandered, forged, and fled toLondon: where for two years he had associated with the lowest outcasts. She wassinking under a painful and incurable disease, and wished to recover him beforeshe died. Inquiries were set on foot, and strict searches made. They wereunavailing for a long time, but ultimately successful; and he went back withher to France.”

“There she died,” said Monks, “after a lingering illness;and, on her death-bed, she bequeathed these secrets to me, together with herunquenchable and deadly hatred of all whom they involved—though she neednot have left me that, for I had inherited it long before. She would notbelieve that the girl had destroyed herself, and the child too, but was filledwith the impression that a male child had been born, and was alive. I swore toher, if ever it crossed my path, to hunt it down; never to let it rest; topursue it with the bitterest and most unrelenting animosity; to vent upon itthe hatred that I deeply felt, and to spit upon the empty vaunt of thatinsulting will by dragging it, if I could, to the very gallows-foot. She wasright. He came in my way at last. I began well; and, but for babbling drabs, Iwould have finished as I began!”

As the villain folded his arms tight together, and muttered curses on himselfin the impotence of baffled malice, Mr. Brownlow turned to the terrified groupbeside him, and explained that the Jew, who had been his old accomplice andconfidant, had a large reward for keeping Oliver ensnared: of which some partwas to be given up, in the event of his being rescued: and that a dispute onthis head had led to their visit to the country house for the purpose ofidentifying him.

“The locket and ring?” said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Monks.

“I bought them from the man and woman I told you of, who stole them fromthe nurse, who stole them from the corpse,” answered Monks withoutraising his eyes. “You know what became of them.”

Mr. Brownlow merely nodded to Mr. Grimwig, who disappearing with greatalacrity, shortly returned, pushing in Mrs. Bumble, and dragging her unwillingconsort after him.

“Do my hi’s deceive me!” cried Mr. Bumble, with ill-feignedenthusiasm, “or is that little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if you know’dhow I’ve been a-grieving for you—”

“Hold your tongue, fool,” murmured Mrs. Bumble.

“Isn’t natur, natur, Mrs. Bumble?” remonstrated the workhousemaster. “Can’t I be supposed to feel—I as brought himup porochially—when I see him a-setting here among ladies and gentlemenof the very affablest description! I always loved that boy as if he’dbeen my—my—my own grandfather,” said Mr. Bumble, halting foran appropriate comparison. “Master Oliver, my dear, you remember theblessed gentleman in the white waistcoat? Ah! he went to heaven last week, in aoak coffin with plated handles, Oliver.”

“Come, sir,” said Mr. Grimwig, tartly; “suppress yourfeelings.”

“I will do my endeavours, sir,” replied Mr. Bumble. “How doyou do, sir? I hope you are very well.”

This salutation was addressed to Mr. Brownlow, who had stepped up to within ashort distance of the respectable couple. He inquired, as he pointed to Monks,

“Do you know that person?”

“No,” replied Mrs. Bumble flatly.

“Perhaps you don’t?” said Mr. Brownlow, addressing herspouse.

“I never saw him in all my life,” said Mr. Bumble.

“Nor sold him anything, perhaps?”

“No,” replied Mrs. Bumble.

“You never had, perhaps, a certain gold locket and ring?” said Mr.Brownlow.

“Certainly not,” replied the matron. “Why are we brought hereto answer to such nonsense as this?”

Again Mr. Brownlow nodded to Mr. Grimwig; and again that gentleman limped awaywith extraordinary readiness. But not again did he return with a stout man andwife; for this time, he led in two palsied women, who shook and tottered asthey walked.

“You shut the door the night old Sally died,” said the foremostone, raising her shrivelled hand, “but you couldn’t shut out thesound, nor stop the chinks.”

“No, no,” said the other, looking round her and wagging hertoothless jaws. “No, no, no.”

“We heard her try to tell you what she’d done, and saw you take apaper from her hand, and watched you too, next day, to the pawnbroker’sshop,” said the first.

“Yes,” added the second, “and it was a ‘locket and goldring.’ We found out that, and saw it given you. We were by. Oh! we wereby.”

“And we know more than that,” resumed the first, “for shetold us often, long ago, that the young mother had told her that, feeling sheshould never get over it, she was on her way, at the time that she was takenill, to die near the grave of the father of the child.”

“Would you like to see the pawnbroker himself?” asked Mr. Grimwigwith a motion towards the door.

“No,” replied the woman; “if he”—she pointed toMonks—“has been coward enough to confess, as I see he has, and youhave sounded all these hags till you have found the right ones, I have nothingmore to say. I did sell them, and they’re where you’ll neverget them. What then?”

“Nothing,” replied Mr. Brownlow, “except that it remains forus to take care that neither of you is employed in a situation of trust again.You may leave the room.”

“I hope,” said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with great ruefulness,as Mr. Grimwig disappeared with the two old women: “I hope that thisunfortunate little circumstance will not deprive me of my porochialoffice?”

“Indeed it will,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “You may make up yourmind to that, and think yourself well off besides.”

“It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,” urged Mr. Bumble;first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the room.

“That is no excuse,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “You were presenton the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the moreguilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wifeacts under your direction.”

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hatemphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass—a idiot. Ifthat’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wishthe law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—byexperience.”

Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr. Bumble fixed hishat on very tight, and putting his hands in his pockets, followed his helpmatedownstairs.

“Young lady,” said Mr. Brownlow, turning to Rose, “give meyour hand. Do not tremble. You need not fear to hear the few remaining words wehave to say.”

“If they have—I do not know how they can, but if theyhave—any reference to me,” said Rose, “pray let me hear themat some other time. I have not strength or spirits now.”

“Nay,” returned the old gentlman, drawing her arm through his;“you have more fortitude than this, I am sure. Do you know this younglady, sir?”

“Yes,” replied Monks.

“I never saw you before,” said Rose faintly.

“I have seen you often,” returned Monks.

“The father of the unhappy Agnes had two daughters,” saidMr. Brownlow. “What was the fate of the other—the child?”

“The child,” replied Monks, “when her father died in astrange place, in a strange name, without a letter, book, or scrap of paperthat yielded the faintest clue by which his friends or relatives could betraced—the child was taken by some wretched cottagers, who reared it astheir own.”

“Go on,” said Mr. Brownlow, signing to Mrs. Maylie to approach.“Go on!”

“You couldn’t find the spot to which these people hadrepaired,” said Monks, “but where friendship fails, hatred willoften force a way. My mother found it, after a year of cunning search—ay,and found the child.”

“She took it, did she?”

“No. The people were poor and began to sicken—at least the mandid—of their fine humanity; so she left it with them, giving them a smallpresent of money which would not last long, and promised more, which she nevermeant to send. She didn’t quite rely, however, on their discontent andpoverty for the child’s unhappiness, but told the history of thesister’s shame, with such alterations as suited her; bade them take goodheed of the child, for she came of bad blood; and told them she wasillegitimate, and sure to go wrong at one time or other. The circumstancescountenanced all this; the people believed it; and there the child dragged onan existence, miserable enough even to satisfy us, until a widow lady,residing, then, at Chester, saw the girl by chance, pitied her, and took herhome. There was some cursed spell, I think, against us; for in spite of all ourefforts she remained there and was happy. I lost sight of her, two or threeyears ago, and saw her no more until a few months back.”

“Do you see her now?”

“Yes. Leaning on your arm.”

“But not the less my niece,” cried Mrs. Maylie, folding thefainting girl in her arms; “not the less my dearest child. I would notlose her now, for all the treasures of the world. My sweet companion, my owndear girl!”

“The only friend I ever had,” cried Rose, clinging to her.“The kindest, best of friends. My heart will burst. I cannot bear allthis.”

“You have borne more, and have been, through all, the best and gentlestcreature that ever shed happiness on every one she knew,” said Mrs.Maylie, embracing her tenderly. “Come, come, my love, remember who thisis who waits to clasp you in his arms, poor child! See here—look, look,my dear!”

“Not aunt,” cried Oliver, throwing his arms about her neck;“I’ll never call her aunt—sister, my own dear sister, thatsomething taught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear, darlingRose!”

Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the longclose embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, and mother,were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in thecup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose so softened,and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became a solemnpleasure, and lost all character of pain.

They were a long, long time alone. A soft tap at the door, at length announcedthat some one was without. Oliver opened it, glided away, and gave place toHarry Maylie.

“I know it all,” he said, taking a seat beside the lovely girl.“Dear Rose, I know it all.”

“I am not here by accident,” he added after a lengthened silence;“nor have I heard all this to-night, for I knew it yesterday—onlyyesterday. Do you guess that I have come to remind you of a promise?”

“Stay,” said Rose. “You do know all.”

“All. You gave me leave, at any time within a year, to renew the subjectof our last discourse.”

“I did.”

“Not to press you to alter your determination,” pursued the youngman, “but to hear you repeat it, if you would. I was to lay whatever ofstation or fortune I might possess at your feet, and if you still adhered toyour former determination, I pledged myself, by no word or act, to seek tochange it.”

“The same reasons which influenced me then, will influence me now,”said Rose firmly. “If I ever owed a strict and rigid duty to her, whosegoodness saved me from a life of indigence and suffering, when should I everfeel it, as I should to-night? It is a struggle,” said Rose, “butone I am proud to make; it is a pang, but one my heart shall bear.”

“The disclosure of to-night,”—Harry began.

“The disclosure of to-night,” replied Rose softly, “leaves mein the same position, with reference to you, as that in which I stoodbefore.”

“You harden your heart against me, Rose,” urged her lover.

“Oh Harry, Harry,” said the young lady, bursting into tears;“I wish I could, and spare myself this pain.”

“Then why inflict it on yourself?” said Harry, taking her hand.“Think, dear Rose, think what you have heard to-night.”

“And what have I heard! What have I heard!” cried Rose. “Thata sense of his deep disgrace so worked upon my own father that he shunnedall—there, we have said enough, Harry, we have said enough.”

“Not yet, not yet,” said the young man, detaining her as she rose.“My hopes, my wishes, prospects, feeling: every thought in life except mylove for you: have undergone a change. I offer you, now, no distinction among abustling crowd; no mingling with a world of malice and detraction, where theblood is called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and shame; but ahome—a heart and home—yes, dearest Rose, and those, and thosealone, are all I have to offer.”

“What do you mean!” she faltered.

“I mean but this—that when I left you last, I left you with a firmdetermination to level all fancied barriers between yourself and me; resolvedthat if my world could not be yours, I would make yours mine; that no pride ofbirth should curl the lip at you, for I would turn from it. This I have done.Those who have shrunk from me because of this, have shrunk from you, and provedyou so far right. Such power and patronage: such relatives of influence andrank: as smiled upon me then, look coldly now; but there are smiling fields andwaving trees in England’s richest county; and by one villagechurch—mine, Rose, my own!—there stands a rustic dwelling which youcan make me prouder of, than all the hopes I have renounced, measured athousandfold. This is my rank and station now, and here I lay it down!”

“It’s a trying thing waiting supper for lovers,” said Mr.Grimwig, waking up, and pulling his pocket-handkerchief from over his head.

Truth to tell, the supper had been waiting a most unreasonable time. NeitherMrs. Maylie, nor Harry, nor Rose (who all came in together), could offer a wordin extenuation.

“I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,” said Mr.Grimwig, “for I began to think I should get nothing else. I’ll takethe liberty, if you’ll allow me, of saluting the bride that is tobe.”

Mr. Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect upon the blushinggirl; and the example, being contagious, was followed both by the doctor andMr. Brownlow: some people affirm that Harry Maylie had been observed to set it,originally, in a dark room adjoining; but the best authorities consider thisdownright scandal: he being young and a clergyman.

“Oliver, my child,” said Mrs. Maylie, “where have you been,and why do you look so sad? There are tears stealing down your face at thismoment. What is the matter?”

It is a world of disappointment: often to the hopes we most cherish, and hopesthat do our nature the greatest honour.

Poor Dick was dead!

The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces. Inquisitive andeager eyes peered from every inch of space. From the rail before the dock, awayinto the sharpest angle of the smallest corner in the galleries, all looks werefixed upon one man—Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on theright and on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament, all brightwith gleaming eyes.

He stood there, in all this glare of living light, with one hand resting on thewooden slab before him, the other held to his ear, and his head thrust forwardto enable him to catch with greater distinctness every word that fell from thepresiding judge, who was delivering his charge to the jury. At times, he turnedhis eyes sharply upon them to observe the effect of the slightest featherweightin his favour; and when the points against him were stated with terribledistinctness, looked towards his counsel, in mute appeal that he would, eventhen, urge something in his behalf. Beyond these manifestations of anxiety, hestirred not hand or foot. He had scarcely moved since the trial began; and nowthat the judge ceased to speak, he still remained in the same strained attitudeof close attention, with his gaze bent on him, as though he listened still.

A slight bustle in the court, recalled him to himself. Looking round, he sawthat the jurymen had turned together, to consider their verdict. As his eyeswandered to the gallery, he could see the people rising above each other to seehis face: some hastily applying their glasses to their eyes: and otherswhispering their neighbours with looks expressive of abhorrence. A few therewere, who seemed unmindful of him, and looked only to the jury, in impatientwonder how they could delay. But in no one face—not even among the women,of whom there were many there—could he read the faintest sympathy withhimself, or any feeling but one of all-absorbing interest that he should becondemned.

As he saw all this in one bewildered glance, the deathlike stillness cameagain, and looking back he saw that the jurymen had turned towards the judge.Hush!

They only sought permission to retire.

He looked, wistfully, into their faces, one by one when they passed out, asthough to see which way the greater number leant; but that was fruitless. Thejailer touched him on the shoulder. He followed mechanically to the end of thedock, and sat down on a chair. The man pointed it out, or he would not haveseen it.

He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people were eating, and somefanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for the crowded place was very hot.There was one young man sketching his face in a little note-book. He wonderedwhether it was like, and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, andmade another with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.

In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, his mind began tobusy itself with the fashion of his dress, and what it cost, and how he put iton. There was an old fat gentleman on the bench, too, who had gone out, somehalf an hour before, and now come back. He wondered within himself whether thisman had been to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it; andpursued this train of careless thought until some new object caught his eye androused another.

Not that, all this time, his mind was, for an instant, free from one oppressiveoverwhelming sense of the grave that opened at his feet; it was ever present tohim, but in a vague and general way, and he could not fix his thoughts upon it.Thus, even while he trembled, and turned burning hot at the idea of speedydeath, he fell to counting the iron spikes before him, and wondering how thehead of one had been broken off, and whether they would mend it, or leave it asit was. Then, he thought of all the horrors of the gallows and thescaffold—and stopped to watch a man sprinkling the floor to coolit—and then went on to think again.

At length there was a cry of silence, and a breathless look from all towardsthe door. The jury returned, and passed him close. He could glean nothing fromtheir faces; they might as well have been of stone. Perfect stillnessensued—not a rustle—not a breath—Guilty.

The building rang with a tremendous shout, and another, and another, and thenit echoed loud groans, that gathered strength as they swelled out, like angrythunder. It was a peal of joy from the populace outside, greeting the news thathe would die on Monday.

The noise subsided, and he was asked if he had anything to say why sentence ofdeath should not be passed upon him. He had resumed his listening attitude, andlooked intently at his questioner while the demand was made; but it was twicerepeated before he seemed to hear it, and then he only muttered that he was anold man—an old man—and so, dropping into a whisper, was silentagain.

The judge assumed the black cap, and the prisoner still stood with the same airand gesture. A woman in the gallery, uttered some exclamation, called forth bythis dread solemnity; he looked hastily up as if angry at the interruption, andbent forward yet more attentively. The address was solemn and impressive; thesentence fearful to hear. But he stood, like a marble figure, without themotion of a nerve. His haggard face was still thrust forward, his under-jawhanging down, and his eyes staring out before him, when the jailer put his handupon his arm, and beckoned him away. He gazed stupidly about him for aninstant, and obeyed.

They led him through a paved room under the court, where some prisoners werewaiting till their turns came, and others were talking to their friends, whocrowded round a grate which looked into the open yard. There was nobody thereto speak to him; but, as he passed, the prisoners fell back to renderhim more visible to the people who were clinging to the bars: and they assailedhim with opprobrious names, and screeched and hissed. He shook his fist, andwould have spat upon them; but his conductors hurried him on, through a gloomypassage lighted by a few dim lamps, into the interior of the prison.

Here, he was searched, that he might not have about him the means ofanticipating the law; this ceremony performed, they led him to one of thecondemned cells, and left him there—alone.

He sat down on a stone bench opposite the door, which served for seat andbedstead; and casting his blood-shot eyes upon the ground, tried to collect histhoughts. After awhile, he began to remember a few disjointed fragments of whatthe judge had said: though it had seemed to him, at the time, that he could nothear a word. These gradually fell into their proper places, and by degreessuggested more: so that in a little time he had the whole, almost as it wasdelivered. To be hanged by the neck, till he was dead—that was the end.To be hanged by the neck till he was dead.

As it came on very dark, he began to think of all the men he had known who haddied upon the scaffold; some of them through his means. They rose up, in suchquick succession, that he could hardly count them. He had seen some of themdie,—and had joked too, because they died with prayers upon their lips.With what a rattling noise the drop went down; and how suddenly they changed,from strong and vigorous men to dangling heaps of clothes!

Some of them might have inhabited that very cell—sat upon that very spot.It was very dark; why didn’t they bring a light? The cell had been builtfor many years. Scores of men must have passed their last hours there. It waslike sitting in a vault strewn with dead bodies—the cap, the noose, thepinioned arms, the faces that he knew, even beneath that hideousveil.—Light, light!

At length, when his hands were raw with beating against the heavy door andwalls, two men appeared: one bearing a candle, which he thrust into an ironcandlestick fixed against the wall: the other dragging in a mattress on whichto pass the night; for the prisoner was to be left alone no more.

Then came the night—dark, dismal, silent night. Other watchers are gladto hear this church-clock strike, for they tell of life and coming day. To himthey brought despair. The boom of every iron bell came laden with the one,deep, hollow sound—Death. What availed the noise and bustle of cheerfulmorning, which penetrated even there, to him? It was another form of knell,with mockery added to the warning.

The day passed off. Day? There was no day; it was gone as soon ascome—and night came on again; night so long, and yet so short; long inits dreadful silence, and short in its fleeting hours. At one time he raved andblasphemed; and at another howled and tore his hair. Venerable men of his ownpersuasion had come to pray beside him, but he had driven them away withcurses. They renewed their charitable efforts, and he beat them off.

Saturday night. He had only one night more to live. And as he thought of this,the day broke—Sunday.

It was not until the night of this last awful day, that a withering sense ofhis helpless, desperate state came in its full intensity upon his blightedsoul; not that he had ever held any defined or positive hope of mercy, but thathe had never been able to consider more than the dim probability of dying sosoon. He had spoken little to either of the two men, who relieved each other intheir attendance upon him; and they, for their parts, made no effort to rousehis attention. He had sat there, awake, but dreaming. Now, he started up, everyminute, and with gasping mouth and burning skin, hurried to and fro, in such aparoxysm of fear and wrath that even they—used to suchsights—recoiled from him with horror. He grew so terrible, at last, inall the tortures of his evil conscience, that one man could not bear to sitthere, eyeing him alone; and so the two kept watch together.

He cowered down upon his stone bed, and thought of the past. He had beenwounded with some missiles from the crowd on the day of his capture, and hishead was bandaged with a linen cloth. His red hair hung down upon his bloodlessface; his beard was torn, and twisted into knots; his eyes shone with aterrible light; his unwashed flesh crackled with the fever that burnt him up.Eight—nine—then. If it was not a trick to frighten him, and thosewere the real hours treading on each other’s heels, where would he be,when they came round again! Eleven! Another struck, before the voice of theprevious hour had ceased to vibrate. At eight, he would be the only mourner inhis own funeral train; at eleven—

Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which have hidden so much misery and suchunspeakable anguish, not only from the eyes, but, too often, and too long, fromthe thoughts, of men, never held so dread a spectacle as that. The few wholingered as they passed, and wondered what the man was doing who was to behanged to-morrow, would have slept but ill that night, if they could have seenhim.

From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups of two and threepresented themselves at the lodge-gate, and inquired, with anxious faces,whether any reprieve had been received. These being answered in the negative,communicated the welcome intelligence to clusters in the street, who pointedout to one another the door from which he must come out, and showed where thescaffold would be built, and, walking with unwilling steps away, turned back toconjure up the scene. By degrees they fell off, one by one; and, for an hour,in the dead of night, the street was left to solitude and darkness.

The space before the prison was cleared, and a few strong barriers, paintedblack, had been already thrown across the road to break the pressure of theexpected crowd, when Mr. Brownlow and Oliver appeared at the wicket, andpresented an order of admission to the prisoner, signed by one of the sheriffs.They were immediately admitted into the lodge.

“Is the young gentleman to come too, sir?” said the man whose dutyit was to conduct them. “It’s not a sight for children, sir.”

“It is not indeed, my friend,” rejoined Mr. Brownlow; “but mybusiness with this man is intimately connected with him; and as this child hasseen him in the full career of his success and villainy, I think it aswell—even at the cost of some pain and fear—that he should see himnow.”

These few words had been said apart, so as to be inaudible to Oliver. The mantouched his hat; and glancing at Oliver with some curiousity, opened anothergate, opposite to that by which they had entered, and led them on, through darkand winding ways, towards the cells.

“This,” said the man, stopping in a gloomy passage where a coupleof workmen were making some preparations in profound silence—“thisis the place he passes through. If you step this way, you can see the door hegoes out at.”

He led them into a stone kitchen, fitted with coppers for dressing the prisonfood, and pointed to a door. There was an open grating above it, through whichcame the sound of men’s voices, mingled with the noise of hammering, andthe throwing down of boards. They were putting up the scaffold.

From this place, they passed through several strong gates, opened by otherturnkeys from the inner side; and, having entered an open yard, ascended aflight of narrow steps, and came into a passage with a row of strong doors onthe left hand. Motioning them to remain where they were, the turnkey knocked atone of these with his bunch of keys. The two attendants, after a littlewhispering, came out into the passage, stretching themselves as if glad of thetemporary relief, and motioned the visitors to follow the jailer into the cell.They did so.

The condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himself from side toside, with a countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of aman. His mind was evidently wandering to his old life, for he continued tomutter, without appearing conscious of their presence otherwise than as a partof his vision.

“Good boy, Charley—well done—” he mumbled.“Oliver, too, ha! ha! ha! Oliver too—quite the gentlemannow—quite the—take that boy away to bed!”

The jailer took the disengaged hand of Oliver; and, whispering him not to bealarmed, looked on without speaking.

“Take him away to bed!” cried Fagin. “Do you hear me, some ofyou? He has been the—the—somehow the cause of all this. It’sworth the money to bring him up to it—Bolter’s throat, Bill; nevermind the girl—Bolter’s throat as deep as you can cut. Saw his headoff!”

“Fagin,” said the jailer.

“That’s me!” cried the Jew, falling instantly, into theattitude of listening he had assumed upon his trial. “An old man, myLord; a very old, old man!”

“Here,” said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keephim down. “Here’s somebody wants to see you, to ask you somequestions, I suppose. Fagin, Fagin! Are you a man?”

“I shan’t be one long,” he replied, looking up with a faceretaining no human expression but rage and terror. “Strike them all dead!What right have they to butcher me?”

As he spoke he caught sight of Oliver and Mr. Brownlow. Shrinking to thefurthest corner of the seat, he demanded to know what they wanted there.

“Steady,” said the turnkey, still holding him down. “Now,sir, tell him what you want. Quick, if you please, for he grows worse as thetime gets on.”

“You have some papers,” said Mr. Brownlow advancing, “whichwere placed in your hands, for better security, by a man called Monks.”

“It’s all a lie together,” replied Fagin. “Ihaven’t one—not one.”

“For the love of God,” said Mr. Brownlow solemnly, “do notsay that now, upon the very verge of death; but tell me where they are. Youknow that Sikes is dead; that Monks has confessed; that there is no hope of anyfurther gain. Where are those papers?”

“Oliver,” cried Fagin, beckoning to him. “Here, here! Let mewhisper to you.”

“I am not afraid,” said Oliver in a low voice, as he relinquishedMr. Brownlow’s hand.

“The papers,” said Fagin, drawing Oliver towards him, “are ina canvas bag, in a hole a little way up the chimney in the top front-room. Iwant to talk to you, my dear. I want to talk to you.”

“Yes, yes,” returned Oliver. “Let me say a prayer. Do! Let mesay one prayer. Say only one, upon your knees, with me, and we will talk tillmorning.”

“Outside, outside,” replied Fagin, pushing the boy before himtowards the door, and looking vacantly over his head. “Say I’vegone to sleep—they’ll believe you. You can get me out, if you takeme so. Now then, now then!”

“Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” cried the boy with a burst oftears.

“That’s right, that’s right,” said Fagin.“That’ll help us on. This door first. If I shake and tremble, as wepass the gallows, don’t you mind, but hurry on. Now, now, now!”

“Have you nothing else to ask him, sir?” inquired the turnkey.

“No other question,” replied Mr. Brownlow. “If I hoped wecould recall him to a sense of his position—”

“Nothing will do that, sir,” replied the man, shaking his head.“You had better leave him.”

The door of the cell opened, and the attendants returned.

“Press on, press on,” cried Fagin. “Softly, but not so slow.Faster, faster!”

The men laid hands upon him, and disengaging Oliver from his grasp, held himback. He struggled with the power of desperation, for an instant; and then sentup cry upon cry that penetrated even those massive walls, and rang in theirears until they reached the open yard.

It was some time before they left the prison. Oliver nearly swooned after thisfrightful scene, and was so weak that for an hour or more, he had not thestrength to walk.

Day was dawning when they again emerged. A great multitude had alreadyassembled; the windows were filled with people, smoking and playing cards tobeguile the time; the crowd were pushing, quarrelling, joking. Everything toldof life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the centre ofall—the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideousapparatus of death.

The fortunes of those who have figured in this tale are nearly closed. Thelittle that remains to their historian to relate, is told in few and simplewords.

Before three months had passed, Rose Fleming and Harry Maylie were married inthe village church which was henceforth to be the scene of the youngclergyman’s labours; on the same day they entered into possession oftheir new and happy home.

Mrs. Maylie took up her abode with her son and daughter-in-law, to enjoy,during the tranquil remainder of her days, the greatest felicity that age andworth can know—the contemplation of the happiness of those on whom thewarmest affections and tenderest cares of a well-spent life, have beenunceasingly bestowed.

It appeared, on full and careful investigation, that if the wreck of propertyremaining in the custody of Monks (which had never prospered either in hishands or in those of his mother) were equally divided between himself andOliver, it would yield, to each, little more than three thousand pounds. By theprovisions of his father’s will, Oliver would have been entitled to thewhole; but Mr. Brownlow, unwilling to deprive the elder son of the opportunityof retrieving his former vices and pursuing an honest career, proposed thismode of distribution, to which his young charge joyfully acceded.

Monks, still bearing that assumed name, retired with his portion to a distantpart of the New World; where, having quickly squandered it, he once more fellinto his old courses, and, after undergoing a long confinement for some freshact of fraud and knavery, at length sunk under an attack of his old disorder,and died in prison. As far from home, died the chief remaining members of hisfriend Fagin’s gang.

Mr. Brownlow adopted Oliver as his son. Removing with him and the oldhousekeeper to within a mile of the parsonage-house, where his dear friendsresided, he gratified the only remaining wish of Oliver’s warm andearnest heart, and thus linked together a little society, whose conditionapproached as nearly to one of perfect happiness as can ever be known in thischanging world.

Soon after the marriage of the young people, the worthy doctor returned toChertsey, where, bereft of the presence of his old friends, he would have beendiscontented if his temperament had admitted of such a feeling; and would haveturned quite peevish if he had known how. For two or three months, he contentedhimself with hinting that he feared the air began to disagree with him; then,finding that the place really no longer was, to him, what it had been, hesettled his business on his assistant, took a bachelor’s cottage outsidethe village of which his young friend was pastor, and instantaneouslyrecovered. Here he took to gardening, planting, fishing, carpentering, andvarious other pursuits of a similar kind: all undertaken with hischaracteristic impetuosity. In each and all he has since become famousthroughout the neighborhood, as a most profound authority.

Before his removal, he had managed to contract a strong friendship for Mr.Grimwig, which that eccentric gentleman cordially reciprocated. He isaccordingly visited by Mr. Grimwig a great many times in the course of theyear. On all such occasions, Mr. Grimwig plants, fishes, and carpenters, withgreat ardour; doing everything in a very singular and unprecedented manner, butalways maintaining with his favourite asseveration, that his mode is the rightone. On Sundays, he never fails to criticise the sermon to the youngclergyman’s face: always informing Mr. Losberne, in strict confidenceafterwards, that he considers it an excellent performance, but deems it as wellnot to say so. It is a standing and very favourite joke, for Mr. Brownlow torally him on his old prophecy concerning Oliver, and to remind him of the nighton which they sat with the watch between them, waiting his return; but Mr.Grimwig contends that he was right in the main, and, in proof thereof, remarksthat Oliver did not come back after all; which always calls forth a laugh onhis side, and increases his good humour.

Mr. Noah Claypole: receiving a free pardon from the Crown in consequence ofbeing admitted approver against Fagin: and considering his profession notaltogether as safe a one as he could wish: was, for some little time, at a lossfor the means of a livelihood, not burdened with too much work. After someconsideration, he went into business as an informer, in which calling herealises a genteel subsistence. His plan is, to walk out once a week duringchurch time attended by Charlotte in respectable attire. The lady faints awayat the doors of charitable publicans, and the gentleman being accommodated withthree-penny worth of brandy to restore her, lays an information next day, andpockets half the penalty. Sometimes Mr. Claypole faints himself, but the resultis the same.

Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, deprived of their situations, were gradually reduced togreat indigence and misery, and finally became paupers in that very sameworkhouse in which they had once lorded it over others. Mr. Bumble has beenheard to say, that in this reverse and degradation, he has not even spirits tobe thankful for being separated from his wife.

As to Mr. Giles and Brittles, they still remain in their old posts, althoughthe former is bald, and the last-named boy quite grey. They sleep at theparsonage, but divide their attentions so equally among its inmates, and Oliverand Mr. Brownlow, and Mr. Losberne, that to this day the villagers have neverbeen able to discover to which establishment they properly belong.

Master Charles Bates, appalled by Sikes’s crime, fell into a train ofreflection whether an honest life was not, after all, the best. Arriving at theconclusion that it certainly was, he turned his back upon the scenes of thepast, resolved to amend it in some new sphere of action. He struggled hard, andsuffered much, for some time; but, having a contented disposition, and a goodpurpose, succeeded in the end; and, from being a farmer’s drudge, and acarrier’s lad, he is now the merriest young grazier in allNorthamptonshire.

And now, the hand that traces these words, falters, as it approaches theconclusion of its task; and would weave, for a little longer space, the threadof these adventures.

I would fain linger yet with a few of those among whom I have so long moved,and share their happiness by endeavouring to depict it. I would show RoseMaylie in all the bloom and grace of early womanhood, shedding on her secludedpath in life soft and gentle light, that fell on all who trod it with her, andshone into their hearts. I would paint her the life and joy of the fire-sidecircle and the lively summer group; I would follow her through the sultryfields at noon, and hear the low tones of her sweet voice in the moonlitevening walk; I would watch her in all her goodness and charity abroad, and thesmiling untiring discharge of domestic duties at home; I would paint her andher dead sister’s child happy in their love for one another, and passingwhole hours together in picturing the friends whom they had so sadly lost; Iwould summon before me, once again, those joyous little faces that clusteredround her knee, and listen to their merry prattle; I would recall the tones ofthat clear laugh, and conjure up the sympathising tear that glistened in thesoft blue eye. These, and a thousand looks and smiles, and turns of thought andspeech—I would fain recall them every one.

How Mr. Brownlow went on, from day to day, filling the mind of his adoptedchild with stores of knowledge, and becoming attached to him, more and more, ashis nature developed itself, and showed the thriving seeds of all he wished himto become—how he traced in him new traits of his early friend, thatawakened in his own bosom old remembrances, melancholy and yet sweet andsoothing—how the two orphans, tried by adversity, remembered its lessonsin mercy to others, and mutual love, and fervent thanks to Him who hadprotected and preserved them—these are all matters which need not to betold. I have said that they were truly happy; and without strong affection andhumanity of heart, and gratitude to that Being whose code is Mercy, and whosegreat attribute is Benevolence to all things that breathe, happiness can neverbe attained.

Within the altar of the old village church there stands a white marble tablet,which bears as yet but one word: “AGNES.” There is no coffin inthat tomb; and may it be many, many years, before another name is placed aboveit! But, if the spirits of the Dead ever come back to earth, to visit spotshallowed by the love—the love beyond the grave—of those whom theyknew in life, I believe that the shade of Agnes sometimes hovers round thatsolemn nook. I believe it none the less because that nook is in a Church, andshe was weak and erring.