Oliver Twist 109

|<<   <<   >>

‚I don’t feel like myself when you lay that withered old claw on my shoulder, so take it away,‘ said Sikes, casting off the Jew’s hand.

‚It make you nervous, Bill,–reminds you of being nabbed, does it?‘ 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 was your father, and I suppose _he_ is singeing his grizzled red beard by this time, unless you came straight from the old ‚un without any father at all betwixt 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 foregoing conversation to put on her bonnet, and was now leaving the room.

‚Hallo!‘ cried Sikes. ‚Nance. Where’s the gal going to at this time of night?‘

‚Not far.‘

‚What answer’s that?‘ retorted Sikes. ‚Do you hear me?‘

‚I don’t know where,‘ replied the girl.

‚Then I do,‘ said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy than because 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 it in the street.‘

‚Then you won’t have it,‘ replied Sikes. With which assurance he rose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnet from her head, flung it up to the top of an old press. ‚There,‘ said the robber. ‚Now stop quietly where you are, will you?‘

‚It’s not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,‘ said the girl turning very pale. ‚What do you mean, Bill? Do you know what you’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 me in that way.‘

‚You’ll drive me on the something desperate,‘ muttered the girl placing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down by force some violent outbreak. ‚Let me go, will you,–this minute–this instant.‘

‚No!‘ said Sikes.

‚Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It’ll be better for him. Do you hear me?‘ cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the ground.

‚Hear you!‘ repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confront her. ‚Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog shall have such 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 sitting herself 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 one hour–do–do!‘

‚Cut my limbs off one by one!‘ cried Sikes, seizing her roughly by the arm, ‚If I don’t think the gal’s stark raving mad. Get up.‘

‚Not till you let me go–not till you let me go–Never–never!‘ screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for a minute, 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 down by force. She struggled and implored by turns until twelve o’clock had struck, and then, wearied and exhausted, ceased to contest the point any further. With a caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go out that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined Fagin.

‚Whew!‘ said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from his face. ‚Wot a precious strange gal that is!‘

‚You may say that, Bill,‘ replied Fagin thoughtfully. ‚You may say that.‘

‚Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do you think?‘ asked Sikes. ‚Come; you should know her better than me. Wot does it mean?‘

‚Obstinacy; woman’s obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.‘

‚Well, I suppose it is,‘ growled Sikes. ‚I thought I had tamed her, but she’s as bad as ever.‘

‚Worse,‘ said Fagin thoughtfully. ‚I never knew her like this, for such a little cause.‘

‚Nor I,‘ said Sikes. ‚I think she’s got a touch of that fever in her blood yet, and it won’t come out–eh?‘

‚Like enough.‘

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 110

|<<   <<   >>

‚I’ll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, if she’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 on my back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as you are, kept yourself aloof,‘ 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 up here 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 former seat. Her eyes were swollen and red; she rocked herself to and fro; tossed her head; and, after a little time, burst out laughing.

‚Why, now she’s on the other tack!‘ exclaimed Sikes, turning a 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 there was no fear of her relapsing, Fagin took up his hat and bade him good-night. He paused when he reached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebody would 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 the sight-seers. Show him a light.‘

Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle. When they reached the passage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawing close to the girl, said, in a whisper.

‚What is it, Nancy, dear?‘

‚What do you mean?‘ replied the girl, in the same tone.

‚The reason of all this,‘ replied Fagin. ‚If _he_‘–he pointed with his skinny fore-finger up the stairs–‚is so hard with you (he’s a brute, Nance, a brute-beast), why don’t you–‚

‚Well?‘ said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almost touching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers.

‚No matter just now. We’ll talk of this again. You have a friend in me, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand, quiet and close. If you want revenge on those that treat you like a dog–like a dog! worse than his dog, for he humours him sometimes–come to me. I say, come to me. He is the mere hound of a day, but you know me of old, Nance.‘

‚I know you well,‘ replied the girl, without manifesting the least emotion. ‚Good-night.‘

She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, but said good-night again, in a steady voice, and, answering his parting look with a nod of intelligence, closed the door between them.

Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that were working within his brain. He had conceived the idea–not from what had just passed though that had tended to confirm him, but slowly and by degrees–that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker’s brutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend. Her altered manner, her repeated absences from home alone, her comparative indifference to the interests of the gang for which she had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperate impatience to leave home that night at a particular hour, all favoured the supposition, and rendered it, to him at least, almost matter of certainty. The object of this new liking was not among his myrmidons. He would be a valuable acquisition with such an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) be secured without delay.

There was another, and a darker object, to be gained. Sikes knew too much, and his ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less, because the wounds were hidden. The girl must know, well, that if she shook him off, she could never be safe from his fury, and that it would be surely wreaked–to the maiming of limbs, or perhaps the loss of life–on the object of her more recent fancy.

‚With a little persuasion,‘ thought Fagin, ‚what more likely than that she would consent to poison him? Women have done such things, and worse, to secure the same object before now. There would be the dangerous villain: the man I hate: gone; another secured in his place; and my influence over 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 sat alone, in the housebreaker’s room; and with them uppermost in his thoughts, he had taken the opportunity afterwards afforded him, of sounding the girl in the broken hints he threw out at parting. There was no expression of surprise, no assumption of an inability to understand his meaning. The girl clearly comprehended it. Her glance at parting showed _that_.

But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life of Sikes, and that was one of the chief ends to be attained. ‚How,‘ thought Fagin, as he crept homeward, ‚can I increase my influence with her? What new power can I acquire?‘

Such brains are fertile in expedients. If, without extracting a confession from herself, he laid a watch, discovered the object of her altered regard, and threatened to reveal the whole history to Sikes (of whom she stood in no common fear) unless she entered into his designs, could he not secure her compliance?

‚I can,‘ said Fagin, almost aloud. ‚She durst not refuse me then. 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 the spot where he had left the bolder villain; and went on his way: busying his bony hands in the folds of his tattered garment, which he wrenched tightly in his grasp, as though there were a hated enemy crushed with every motion of his fingers.



The old man was up, betimes, next morning, and waited impatiently for the appearance of his new associate, who after a delay that seemed interminable, at length presented himself, and commenced a voracious assault on the breakfast.

‚Bolter,‘ said Fagin, drawing up a chair and seating himself opposite 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 a great fault in this place. Yer never get time enough over yer meals.‘

‚You can talk as you eat, can’t you?‘ said Fagin, cursing his dear young friend’s greediness from the very bottom of his heart.

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 111

|<<   <<   >>

‚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 the other young woman, because I wanted us to be alone.‘

‚Oh!‘ said Noah. ‚I wish yer’d ordered her to make some buttered toast first. Well. Talk away. Yer won’t interrupt me.‘

There seemed, indeed, no great fear of anything interrupting him, as he had evidently 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 lay will 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 the milk-can was a perfect masterpiece.‘

‚Pretty well, I think, for a beginner,‘ remarked Mr. Bolter complacently. ‚The pots I took off airy railings, and the milk-can was standing by itself outside a public-house. I thought it might get rusty with the 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 and butter, and assisted himself to a second.

‚I want you, Bolter,‘ said Fagin, leaning over the table, ‚to do a piece of work for me, my dear, that needs great care and caution.‘

‚I say,‘ rejoined Bolter, ‚don’t yer go shoving me into danger, or sending me any more o‘ yer police-offices. That don’t suit me, that don’t; and so I tell yer.‘

‚That’s not the smallest danger in it–not the very smallest,‘ 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 a regular cunning sneak when I was at school. What am I to dodge her for? Not to–‚

‚Not to do anything, but to tell me where she goes, who she sees, and, if possible, what she says; to remember the street, if it is a street, or the house, if it is a house; and to bring me back all the information you can.‘

‚What’ll yer give me?‘ asked Noah, setting down his cup, and looking 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. ‚And that’s what I never gave yet, for any job of work where there wasn’t valuable consideration to be gained.‘

‚Who is she?‘ inquired Noah.

‚One of us.‘

‚Oh Lor!‘ cried Noah, curling up his nose. ‚Yer doubtful of her, are yer?‘

‚She has found out some new friends, my dear, and I must know who they are,‘ replied Fagin.

‚I see,‘ said Noah. ‚Just to have the pleasure of knowing them, if they’re respectable people, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I’m your man.‘

‚I knew you would be,‘ cried Fagin, elated by the success of his proposal.

‚Of course, of course,‘ replied Noah. ‚Where is she? Where am I to wait for her? Where am I to go?‘

‚All that, my dear, you shall hear from me. I’ll point her out at the proper time,‘ said Fagin. ‚You keep ready, and leave the rest to me.‘

That night, and the next, and the next again, the spy sat booted and equipped in his carter’s dress: ready to turn out at a word from Fagin. Six nights passed–six long weary nights–and on each, Fagin came home with a disappointed face, and briefly intimated that it was not yet time. On the seventh, he returned earlier, and with an exultation he could not conceal. It was Sunday.

‚She goes abroad to-night,‘ said Fagin, ‚and on the right errand, I’m sure; for she has been alone all day, and the man she is afraid 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 such intense excitement that it infected him. They left the house stealthily, and hurrying through a labyrinth of streets, arrived at length before a public-house, which Noah recognised as the same in which he had slept, on the night of his arrival in London.

It was past eleven o’clock, and the door was closed. It opened softly on its hinges as Fagin gave a low whistle. They entered, without noise; and the door was closed behind them.

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 112

|<<   <<   >>

Scarcely venturing to whisper, but substituting dumb show for words, Fagin, and the young Jew who had admitted them, pointed out the pane of glass to Noah, and signed 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 is looking 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 of snuffing the candle, moved it in the required position, and, speaking to the girl, caused her to raise her face.

‚I see her now,‘ cried the spy.


‚I should know her among a thousand.‘

He hastily descended, as the room-door opened, and the girl came out. Fagin drew him behind a small partition which was curtained off, and they held their breaths as she passed within a few feet of their place of concealment, and emerged 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, and keep od the other side.‘

He did so; and, by the light of the lamps, saw the girl’s retreating figure, already at some distance before him. He advanced as near as he considered prudent, and kept on the opposite side of the street, the better to observe her motions. She looked nervously round, twice or thrice, and once stopped to let two men who were following close behind her, pass on. She seemed to 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: with his eye upon her.



The church clocks chimed three quarters past eleven, as two figures emerged on London Bridge. One, which advanced with a swift and rapid step, was that of a woman 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 he could find, and, at some distance, accommodated his pace to hers: stopping when she stopped: and as she moved again, creeping stealthily on: but never allowing himself, in the ardour of his pursuit, to gain upon her footsteps. Thus, they crossed the bridge, from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, when the woman, apparently disappointed in her anxious scrutiny of the foot-passengers, turned back. The movement was sudden; but he who watched her, was not thrown off his guard by it; for, shrinking into one of the recesses which surmount the piers of 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 same distance in advance as she had been before, he slipped quietly down, and followed her again. At nearly the centre of the bridge, she stopped. The man stopped too.

It was a very dark night. The day had been unfavourable, and at that hour and place 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 attract the importunate regards of such of London’s destitute population, as chanced to take their way over the bridge that night in search of some cold arch 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 burnt upon the small craft moored off the different wharfs, and rendering darker and more indistinct the murky buildings on the banks. The old smoke-stained storehouses on either side, rose heavy and dull from the dense mass of roofs and gables, and frowned sternly upon water too black to reflect even their lumbering shapes. The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom; but the forest of shipping below bridge, and the thickly scattered spires of churches above, were nearly all hidden from sight.

The girl had taken a few restless turns to and fro–closely watched meanwhile by her hidden observer–when the heavy bell of St. Paul’s tolled 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 and death, of health and sickness, the rigid face of the corpse and the calm sleep of the child: midnight was upon them all.

The hour had not struck two minutes, when a young lady, accompanied by a grey-haired gentleman, alighted from a hackney-carriage within a short distance of the bridge, and, having dismissed the vehicle, walked straight towards it. They had scarcely set foot upon its pavement, when the girl started, and immediately made towards them.

They walked onward, looking about them with the air of persons who entertained some very slight expectation which had little chance of being realised, when they were suddenly joined by this new associate. They halted with an exclamation of surprise, but suppressed it immediately; for a man in the garments of a countryman came close up–brushed against them, indeed–at that precise moment.

‚Not here,‘ said Nancy hurriedly, ‚I am afraid to speak to you here. Come away–out of the public road–down the steps yonder!‘

As she uttered these words, and indicated, with her hand, the direction in which she wished them to proceed, the countryman looked round, and roughly asking 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 a landing-stairs from the river. To this spot, the man bearing the appearance of a countryman, hastened unobserved; and after a moment’s survey of the place, he began to descend.

These stairs are a part of the bridge; they consist of three flights. Just below the end of the second, going down, the stone wall on the left terminates in an ornamental pilaster facing towards the Thames. At this point the lower steps widen: so that a person turning that angle of the wall, is necessarily unseen 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 there seemed no better place of concealment, and, the tide being out, there was plenty of room, he slipped aside, with his back to the pilaster, and there waited: pretty certain that they would come no lower, and that even if he could not 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 to penetrate the motives of an interview so different from what he had been led to expect, that he more than once gave the matter up for lost, and persuaded himself, either that they had stopped far above, or had resorted to some entirely different spot to hold their mysterious conversation. He was on the point of emerging from his hiding-place, and regaining the road above, when he heard the sound of footsteps, and directly afterwards of voices almost close at his 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 the gentleman. ‚I will not suffer the young lady to go any farther. Many people would have distrusted you too much to have come even so far, but you see I 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, ‚for what purpose can you have brought us to this strange place? Why not have let me speak to you, above there, where it is light, and there is something stirring, instead of bringing us to this dark and dismal hole?‘

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 113

|<<   <<   >>

‚I told you before,‘ replied Nancy, ‚that I was afraid to speak 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 can hardly 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 that has made me burn as if I was on fire, have been upon me all day. I was reading a book to-night, to wile the time away, and the same things came into the print.‘

‚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 the book in large black letters,–aye, and they carried one close to me, in the streets to-night.‘

‚There is nothing unusual in that,‘ said the gentleman. ‚They have passed me often.‘

‚_Real ones_,‘ rejoined the girl. ‚This was not.‘

There was something so uncommon in her manner, that the flesh of the concealed listener crept as he heard the girl utter these words, and the blood chilled within him. He had never experienced a greater relief than in hearing the sweet voice of the young lady as she begged her to be calm, and not allow herself to become 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 me as 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’s own 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 so much humbler?‘

‚Ah!‘ said the gentleman. ‚A Turk turns his face, after washing 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 smiles off, turn with no less regularity, to the darkest side of Heaven. Between the Mussulman and the Pharisee, commend me to the first!‘

These words appeared to be addressed to the young lady, and were perhaps uttered with the view of affording Nancy time to recover herself. The gentleman, shortly afterwards, addressed himself to her.

‚You were not here last Sunday night,‘ he said.

‚I couldn’t come,‘ replied Nancy; ‚I was kept by force.‘

‚By whom?‘

‚Him that I told the young lady of before.‘

‚You were not suspected of holding any communication with anybody on the subject which has brought us here to-night, I hope?‘ asked the old gentleman.

‚No,‘ replied the girl, shaking her head. ‚It’s not very easy for me to leave him unless he knows why; I couldn’t give him a drink 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 to me, and to some other friends who can be safely trusted, what you told her nearly a fortnight since. I confess to you that I had doubts, at first, whether you 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 to trust you, I tell you without reserve, that we propose to extort the secret, whatever it may be, from the fear of this man Monks. But if–if–‚ said the gentleman, ‚he cannot be secured, or, if secured, cannot be acted upon as we wish, you must deliver up the Jew.‘

‚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 will never do that.‘

‚You will not?‘ said the gentleman, who seemed fully prepared for this answer.

‚Never!‘ returned the girl.

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 114

|<<   <<   >>

‚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 her promise: and for this other reason, besides, that, bad life as he has led, I have led a bad life too; there are many of us who have kept the same courses together, and I’ll not turn upon them, who might–any of them–have turned upon me, but didn’t, bad as they are.‘

‚Then,‘ said the gentleman, quickly, as if this had been the point he had been aiming to attain; ‚put Monks into my hands, and leave him to me to deal with.‘

‚What if he turns against the others?‘

‚I promise you that in that case, if the truth is forced from him, there the matter will rest; there must be circumstances in Oliver’s little history which it would be painful to drag before the public eye, and if the truth is once elicited, they shall go scot free.‘

‚And if it is not?‘ suggested the girl.

‚Then,‘ pursued the gentleman, ‚this Fagin shall not be brought to justice without your consent. In such a case I could show you reasons, 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 faithful pledge.‘

‚Monks would never learn how you knew what you do?‘ said the girl, after a short pause.

‚Never,‘ replied the gentleman. ‚The intelligence should be brought to bear upon him, that he could never even guess.‘

‚I have been a liar, and among liars from a little child,‘ said the girl after another interval of silence, ‚but I will take your words.‘

After receiving an assurance from both, that she might safely do so, she proceeded in a voice so low that it was often difficult for the listener to discover 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 in which she occasionally paused, it appeared as if the gentleman were making some hasty notes of the information she communicated. When she had thoroughly explained the localities of the place, the best position from which to watch it without exciting observation, and the night and hour on which Monks was most in the habit of frequenting it, she seemed to consider for a few moments, for the purpose of recalling his features and appearances more forcibly to her recollection.

‚He is tall,‘ said the girl, ‚and a strongly made man, but not stout; he has a lurking walk; and as he walks, constantly looks over his shoulder, 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 hair and 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 the marks of teeth; for he has desperate fits, and sometimes even bites his hands and 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 having done so, and begged her to proceed.

‚Part of this,‘ said the girl, ‚I have drawn out from other people at the house I tell you of, for I have only seen him twice, and both times he was covered up in a large cloak. I think that’s all I can give you to know him by. Stay though,‘ she added. ‚Upon his throat: so high that you can see a part of it below his neckerchief when he turns his face: 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 so still that the listener could distinctly hear them breathe.

‚I think I do,‘ said the gentleman, breaking silence. ‚I should by your description. We shall see. Many people are singularly like each other. It may not be the same.‘

As he expressed himself to this effect, with assumed carelessness, he took a step or two nearer the concealed spy, as the latter could tell from the distinctness with which he heard him mutter, ‚It must be he!‘

‚Now,‘ he said, returning: so it seemed by the sound: to the spot where 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 serve you?‘

‚Nothing,‘ replied Nancy.

‚You will not persist in saying that,‘ rejoined the gentleman, with a voice and emphasis of kindness that might have touched a much harder and more obdurate heart. ‚Think now. Tell me.‘

‚Nothing, sir,‘ rejoined the girl, weeping. ‚You can do nothing to help me. I am past all hope, indeed.‘

‚You put yourself beyond its pale,‘ said the gentleman. ‚The past has been a dreary waste with you, of youthful energies mis-spent, and such priceless treasures lavished, as the Creator bestows but once and never grants again, but, for the future, you may hope. I do not say that it is in our power to offer you peace of heart and mind, for that must come as you seek it; but a quiet asylum, either in England, or, if you fear to remain here, in some foreign country, it is not only within the compass of our ability but our most anxious wish to secure you. Before the dawn of morning, before this river wakes to the first glimpse of day-light, you shall be placed as entirely beyond the reach of your former associates, and leave as utter an absence of all trace behind you, as if you were to disappear from the earth this moment. Come! I would not have you go back to exchange one word with any old companion, or take one look at any old haunt, or breathe the very air which is pestilence and death to you. Quit them all, while there is time and opportunity!‘

‚She will be persuaded now,‘ cried the young lady. ‚She hesitates, 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 cannot leave it. I must have gone too far to turn back,–and yet I don’t know, for if you had spoken to me so, some time ago, I should have laughed it off. But,‘ she said, looking hastily round, ‚this fear comes over me again. I must go home.‘

‚Home!‘ repeated the young lady, with great stress upon the word.

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 115

|<<   <<   >>

‚Home, lady,‘ rejoined the girl. ‚To such a home as I have raised for myself with the work of my whole life. Let us part. I shall be watched or seen. Go! Go! If I have done you any service all I ask is, that you leave me, and let me go my way alone.‘

‚It is useless,‘ said the gentleman, with a sigh. ‚We compromise her safety, perhaps, by staying here. We may have detained her longer than she expected already.‘

‚Yes, yes,‘ urged the girl. ‚You have.‘

‚What,‘ cried the young lady, ‚can be the end of this poor creature’s life!‘

‚What!‘ repeated the girl. ‚Look before you, lady. Look at that dark water. How many times do you read of such as I who spring into the tide, and leave no living thing, to care for, or bewail them. It may be years hence, 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 horrors should!‘ 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. Let me have that to think of. And yet–give me something that you have worn: I should like to have something–no, no, not a ring–your gloves or handkerchief–anything that I can keep, as having belonged to you, sweet lady. There. Bless you! God bless you. Good-night, good-night!‘

The violent agitation of the girl, and the apprehension of some discovery which would subject her to ill-usage and violence, seemed to determine the gentleman to 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 appeared upon the bridge. They stopped at the summit of the stairs.

‚Hark!‘ cried the young lady, listening. ‚Did she call! I thought I heard her voice.‘

‚No, my love,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, looking sadly back. ‚She has not moved, and will not till we are gone.‘

Rose Maylie lingered, but the old gentleman drew her arm through his, and led her, with gentle force, away. As they disappeared, the girl sunk down nearly at her full length upon one of the stone stairs, and vented the anguish of her heart in bitter tears.

After a time she arose, and with feeble and tottering steps ascended the street. The astonished listener remained motionless on his post for some minutes afterwards, and having ascertained, with many cautious glances round him, 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 had descended.

Peeping out, more than once, when he reached the top, to make sure that he was unobserved, Noah Claypole darted away at his utmost speed, and made for the Jew’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 the year, may be truly called the dead of night; when the streets are silent and deserted; when even sounds appear to slumber, and profligacy and riot have staggered home to dream; it was at this still and silent hour, that Fagin sat watching in his old lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red and blood-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 his face turned towards a wasting candle that stood upon a table by his side. His right hand was raised to his lips, and as, absorbed in thought, he hit his long black nails, he disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as should have been a dog’s or rat’s.

Stretched upon a mattress on the floor, lay Noah Claypole, fast asleep. Towards him the old man sometimes directed his eyes for an instant, and then brought them back again to the candle; which with a long-burnt wick drooping almost double, and hot grease falling down in clots upon the table, plainly showed that his thoughts were busy elsewhere.

Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notable scheme; hatred of the girl who had dared to palter with strangers; and utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal to yield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge on Sikes; the fear of detection, and ruin, and death; and a fierce and deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionate considerations which, following close upon each other with rapid and ceaseless whirl, shot through the brain of Fagin, as every evil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.

He sat without changing his attitude in the least, or appearing to take the smallest heed of time, until his quick ear seemed to be attracted by a footstep in the street.

‚At last,‘ he muttered, wiping his dry and fevered mouth. ‚At last!‘

The bell rang gently as he spoke. He crept upstairs to the door, and presently returned accompanied by a man muffled to the chin, who carried a bundle under one arm. Sitting down and throwing back his outer coat, the man displayed the burly frame of Sikes.

‚There!‘ he said, laying the bundle on the table. ‚Take care of that, and do the most you can with it. It’s been trouble enough to get; I thought I should have been here, three hours ago.‘

Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in the cupboard, sat down again without speaking. But he did not take his eyes off the robber, for an instant, 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 the housebreaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyed him with a look of real affright.

‚Wot now?‘ cried Sikes. ‚Wot do you look at a man so for?‘

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 116

|<<   <<   >>

Fagin raised his right hand, and shook his trembling forefinger in the air; but his 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’s not–you’re not the person, Bill. I’ve no–no fault to find with you.‘

‚Oh, you haven’t, haven’t you?‘ said Sikes, looking sternly at him, and ostentatiously passing a pistol into a more convenient pocket. ‚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 his chair nearer, ‚will make you worse than me.‘

‚Aye?‘ returned the robber with an incredulous air. ‚Tell away! Look sharp, or Nance will think I’m lost.‘

‚Lost!‘ cried Fagin. ‚She has pretty well settled that, in her own mind, already.‘

Sikes looked with an aspect of great perplexity into the Jew’s face, and reading no satisfactory explanation of the riddle there, clenched his coat collar in his huge hand and shook him soundly.

‚Speak, will you!‘ he said; ‚or if you don’t, it shall be for want of breath. Open your mouth and say wot you’ve got to say in plain 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 previously observed him. ‚Well!‘ he said, resuming his former position.

‚Suppose that lad,‘ pursued Fagin, ‚was to peach–to blow upon us all–first seeking out the right folks for the purpose, and then 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 be most easily taken. Suppose he was to do all this, and besides to blow upon a plant we’ve all been in, more or less–of his own fancy; not grabbed, trapped, tried, earwigged by the parson and brought to it on bread and water,–but of his own fancy; to please his own taste; stealing out at nights to find those most interested against us, and peaching to them. Do you hear me?‘ cried the Jew, his eyes flashing with rage. ‚Suppose he did all this, what then?‘

‚What then!‘ replied Sikes; with a tremendous oath. ‚If he was left alive till I came, I’d grind his skull under the iron heel of my boot into as many grains as there are hairs upon his head.‘

‚What if I did it!‘ cried Fagin almost in a yell. ‚I, that knows so much, and could hang so many besides myself!‘

‚I don’t know,‘ replied Sikes, clenching his teeth and turning white at the mere suggestion. ‚I’d do something in the jail that ‚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 out afore the people. I should have such strength,‘ muttered the robber, poising his brawny arm, ‚that I could smash your head as if a loaded waggon 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. ‚Whoever it was, I’d serve them the same.‘

Fagin looked hard at the robber; and, motioning him to be silent, stooped over the bed upon the floor, and shook the sleeper to rouse him. Sikes leant forward in his chair: looking on with his hands upon his knees, as if wondering much what all this questioning and preparation was to end in.

‚Bolter, Bolter! Poor lad!‘ said Fagin, looking up with an expression of devilish anticipation, and speaking slowly and with marked emphasis. ‚He’s tired–tired with watching for her so long,–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 a sitting posture. When his assumed name had been repeated several times, Noah rubbed his eyes, and, giving a heavy yawn, looked sleepily about him.

‚Tell me that again–once again, just for him to hear,‘ said the Jew, pointing to Sikes as he spoke.

‚Tell yer what?‘ asked the sleepy Noah, shaking himself pettishly.

‚That about– _Nancy_,‘ said Fagin, clutching Sikes by the wrist, as if to prevent his leaving the house before he had heard enough. ‚You followed her?‘


‚To London Bridge?‘


‚Where she met two people.‘

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 117

|<<   <<   >>

‚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–and to describe him, which she did–and to tell her what house it was that we meet at, and go to, which she did–and where it could be best watched from, 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 a murmur–she did–did she not?‘ cried Fagin, half mad with fury.

‚All right,‘ replied Noah, scratching his head. ‚That’s just what it was!‘

‚What did they say, about last Sunday?‘

‚About last Sunday!‘ replied Noah, considering. ‚Why I told yer 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, seemed to have a dawning perception who Sikes was, ‚they asked her why she didn’t come, last Sunday, as she promised. She said she couldn’t.‘

‚Why–why? Tell him that.‘

‚Because she was forcibly kept at home by Bill, the man she had told them of before,‘ replied Noah.

‚What more of him?‘ cried Fagin. ‚What more of the man she had told them of before? Tell him that, tell him that.‘

‚Why, that she couldn’t very easily get out of doors unless he knew where she was going to,‘ said Noah; ‚and so the first time she went to see the lady, she–ha! ha! ha! it made me laugh when she said it, that it 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 and furiously, 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 to open the door: on which he was expending fruitless oaths and violence, when the Jew 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 the lock. ‚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 each other’s faces. They exchanged one brief glance; there was a fire in the eyes of both, which could not be mistaken.

‚I mean,‘ said Fagin, showing that he felt all disguise was now useless, ’not too violent for safety. Be crafty, Bill, and not too bold.‘

Sikes made no reply; but, pulling open the door, of which Fagin had turned the lock, dashed into the silent streets.

Without one pause, or moment’s consideration; without once turning his head to the right or left, or raising his eyes to the sky, or lowering them to the ground, but looking straight before him with savage resolution: his teeth so tightly compressed that the strained jaw seemed starting through his skin; the robber held on his headlong course, nor muttered a word, nor relaxed a muscle, until he reached his own door. He opened it, softly, with a key; strode lightly up the stairs; and entering his own room, double-locked the door, and lifting 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 at his 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, the girl 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 you look like that at me!‘

|<<   <<   >>

Oliver Twist 118

|<<   <<   >>

The robber sat regarding her, for a few seconds, with dilated nostrils and heaving breast; and then, grasping her by the head and throat, dragged her into the middle of the room, and looking once towards the door, placed his heavy hand upon her mouth.

‚Bill, Bill!‘ gasped the girl, wrestling with the strength of mortal fear,–‚I–I won’t scream or cry–not once–hear me–speak to me–tell me what I have done!‘

‚You know, you she devil!‘ returned the robber, suppressing his breath. ‚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 the heart to kill me. Oh! think of all I have given up, only this one night, for you. You _shall_ have time to think, and save yourself this crime; I will not loose my hold, you cannot throw me off. Bill, Bill, for dear God’s sake, for your own, for mine, stop before you spill my blood! I have been true to you, upon my guilty soul I have!‘

The man struggled violently, to release his arms; but those of the girl were clasped 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 some foreign country where I could end my days in solitude and peace. Let me see them again, and beg them, on my knees, to show the same mercy and goodness to you; and let us both leave this dreadful place, and far apart lead better lives, and forget how we have lived, except in prayers, and never see each other more. It is never too late to repent. They told me so–I feel it now–but we must have time–a little, little time!‘

The housebreaker freed one arm, and grasped his pistol. The certainty of immediate detection if he fired, flashed across his mind even in the midst of his fury; and he beat it twice with all the force he could summon, upon the upturned face that almost touched his own.

She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that rained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raising herself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom a white handkerchief–Rose Maylie’s own–and holding it up, in her folded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength would allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker.

It was a ghastly figure to look upon. The murderer staggering backward to the wall, and shutting out the sight with his hand, seized a heavy club and struck her down.



Of all bad deeds that, under cover of the darkness, had been committed within wide London’s bounds since night hung over it, that was the worst. Of all the horrors that rose with an ill scent upon the morning air, that was the foulest 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 and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray. It lighted up the room where the murdered woman lay. It did. He tried to shut it out, but it would stream in. If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, what was it, now, in all that brilliant light!

He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir. There had been a moan and motion of 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 imagine them moving towards him, than to see them glaring upward, as if watching the reflection of the pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on the ceiling. He had plucked it off again. And there was the body–mere flesh and 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 hair upon the end, which blazed and shrunk into a light cinder, and, caught by the air, whirled up the chimney. Even that frightened him, sturdy as he was; but he held the weapon till it broke, and then piled it on the coals to burn away, and smoulder into ashes. He washed himself, and rubbed his clothes; there were spots that would not be removed, but he cut the pieces out, and burnt them. How those stains were dispersed about the room! The very feet of the dog were bloody.

All this time he had, never once, turned his back upon the corpse; no, not for a 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 new evidence 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 was visible from the outside. There was the curtain still drawn, which she would have 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. He whistled on the dog, and walked rapidly away.

He went through Islington; strode up the hill at Highgate on which stands the stone in honour of Whittington; turned down to Highgate Hill, unsteady of purpose, and uncertain where to go; struck off to the right again, almost as soon 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 the Vale of Heath, he mounted the opposite bank, and crossing the road which joins the villages of Hampstead and Highgate, made along the remaining portion of the heath to the fields at North End, in one of which he laid himself down under a hedge, and slept.

Soon he was up again, and away,–not far into the country, but back towards London by the high-road–then back again–then over another part of the same ground as he already traversed–then wandering up and down in fields, and lying on ditches‘ brinks to rest, and starting up to make 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 and drink? Hendon. That was a good place, not far off, and out of most people’s way. Thither he directed his steps,–running sometimes, and sometimes, with a strange perversity, loitering at a snail’s pace, or stopping altogether and idly breaking the hedges with a stick. But when he got there, all the people he met–the very children at the doors–seemed to view him with suspicion. Back he turned again, without the courage to purchase bit or drop, though he had tasted no food for many hours; and once more he lingered on the Heath, uncertain where to go.

He wandered over miles and miles of ground, and still came back to the old place. Morning and noon had passed, and the day was on the wane, and still he rambled to and fro, and up and down, and round and round, and still lingered about 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 the church of the quiet village, and plodding along the little street, crept into a small public-house, whose scanty light had guided them to the spot. There was a fire 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, and ate and drank alone, or rather with his dog: to whom he cast a morsel of food from 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 man who had been buried on the previous Sunday; the young men present considering him very old, and the old men present declaring him to have been quite young–not older, one white-haired grandfather said, than he was–with ten or fifteen year of life in him at least–if he had taken 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 had almost dropped asleep, when he was half wakened by the noisy entrance of a new comer.

This was an antic fellow, half pedlar and half mountebank, who travelled about the 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 for various homely jokes with the countrymen, which slackened not until he had made his supper, and opened his box of treasures, when he ingeniously contrived to unite business with amusement.

‚And what be that stoof? Good to eat, Harry?‘ asked a grinning countryman, pointing to some composition-cakes in one corner.

‚This,‘ said the fellow, producing one, ‚this is the infallible 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 and invaluable composition. If a lady stains her honour, she has only need to swallow one cake and she’s cured at once–for it’s poison. If a 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 as a pistol-bullet, and a great deal nastier in the flavour, consequently the more credit in taking it. One penny a square. With all these virtues, one penny a square!‘

There were two buyers directly, and more of the listeners plainly hesitated. The vendor observing this, increased in loquacity.

|<<   <<   >>