From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups of two and three presented 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 pointed out to one another the door from which he must come out, and showed where the scaffold would be built, and, walking with unwilling steps away, turned back to conjure 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, painted black, had been already thrown across the road to break the pressure of the expected crowd, when Mr. Brownlow and Oliver appeared at the wicket, and presented 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 duty it was to conduct them. ‚It’s not a sight for children, sir.‘
‚It is not indeed, my friend,‘ rejoined Mr. Brownlow; ‚but my business with this man is intimately connected with him; and as this child has seen him in the full career of his success and villainy, I think it as well–even at the cost of some pain and fear–that he should see him now.‘
These few words had been said apart, so as to be inaudible to Oliver. The man touched his hat; and glancing at Oliver with some curiousity, opened another gate, opposite to that by which they had entered, and led them on, through dark and winding ways, towards the cells.
‚This,‘ said the man, stopping in a gloomy passage where a couple of workmen were making some preparations in profound silence–‚this is the place he passes through. If you step this way, you can see the door he goes out at.‘
He led them into a stone kitchen, fitted with coppers for dressing the prison food, and pointed to a door. There was an open grating above it, through which came the sound of men’s voices, mingled with the noise of hammering, and the throwing down of boards. They were putting up the scaffold.
From this place, they passed through several strong gates, opened by other turnkeys from the inner side; and, having entered an open yard, ascended a flight of narrow steps, and came into a passage with a row of strong doors on the left hand. Motioning them to remain where they were, the turnkey knocked at one of these with his bunch of keys. The two attendants, after a little whispering, came out into the passage, stretching themselves as if glad of the temporary 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 to side, with a countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of a man. His mind was evidently wandering to his old life, for he continued to mutter, without appearing conscious of their presence otherwise than as a part of his vision.
‚Good boy, Charley–well done–‚ he mumbled. ‚Oliver, too, ha! ha! ha! Oliver too–quite the gentleman now–quite the–take that boy away to bed!‘
The jailer took the disengaged hand of Oliver; and, whispering him not to be alarmed, looked on without speaking.
‚Take him away to bed!‘ cried Fagin. ‚Do you hear me, some of you? He has been the–the–somehow the cause of all this. It’s worth the money to bring him up to it–Bolter’s throat, Bill; never mind the girl–Bolter’s throat as deep as you can cut. Saw his head off!‘
‚Fagin,‘ said the jailer.
‚That’s me!‘ cried the Jew, falling instantly, into the attitude of listening he had assumed upon his trial. ‚An old man, my Lord; a very old, old man!‘
‚Here,‘ said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keep him down. ‚Here’s somebody wants to see you, to ask you some questions, I suppose. Fagin, Fagin! Are you a man?‘
‚I shan’t be one long,‘ he replied, looking up with a face retaining 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 the furthest 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 the time gets on.‘
‚You have some papers,‘ said Mr. Brownlow advancing, ‚which were placed in your hands, for better security, by a man called Monks.‘
‚It’s all a lie together,‘ replied Fagin. ‚I haven’t one–not one.‘
‚For the love of God,‘ said Mr. Brownlow solemnly, ‚do not say that now, upon the very verge of death; but tell me where they are. You know that Sikes is dead; that Monks has confessed; that there is no hope of any further gain. Where are those papers?‘
‚Oliver,‘ cried Fagin, beckoning to him. ‚Here, here! Let me whisper to you.‘
‚I am not afraid,‘ said Oliver in a low voice, as he relinquished Mr. Brownlow’s hand.
‚The papers,‘ said Fagin, drawing Oliver towards him, ‚are in a canvas bag, in a hole a little way up the chimney in the top front-room. I want to talk to you, my dear. I want to talk to you.‘
‚Yes, yes,‘ returned Oliver. ‚Let me say a prayer. Do! Let me say one prayer. Say only one, upon your knees, with me, and we will talk till morning.‘
‚Outside, outside,‘ replied Fagin, pushing the boy before him towards the door, and looking vacantly over his head. ‚Say I’ve gone to sleep–they’ll believe you. You can get me out, if you take me so. Now then, now then!‘
‚Oh! God forgive this wretched man!‘ cried the boy with a burst of tears.
‚That’s right, that’s right,‘ said Fagin. ‚That’ll help us on. This door first. If I shake and tremble, as we pass 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 we could recall him to a sense of his position–‚