Oliver Twist – Day 134 of 173

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 the crowd of passengers and numbers of vehicles, that London began in earnest. Just pausing to observe which appeared the most crowded streets, and consequently the most to be avoided, he crossed into Saint John’s Road, and was soon deep in the obscurity of the intricate and dirty ways, which, lying between Gray’s Inn Lane and Smithfield, render that part of the town one of the lowest and worst that improvement has left in the midst of London.

Through these streets, Noah Claypole walked, dragging Charlotte after him; now stepping into the kennel to embrace at a glance the whole external character of some small public-house; now jogging on again, as some fancied appearance induced him to believe it too public for his purpose. At length, he stopped in front of one, more humble in appearance and more dirty than any he had yet seen; 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 the woman’s shoulders, and slinging it over his own; ‘and don’t yer speak, except when yer spoke to. What’s the name of the house–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 these injunctions, he pushed the rattling door with his shoulder, and entered the house, followed by his companion.

There was nobody in the bar but a young Jew, who, with his two elbows on the counter, was reading a dirty newspaper. He stared very hard at Noah, and Noah stared very hard at him.

If Noah had been attired in his charity-boy’s dress, there might have been some reason for the Jew opening his eyes so wide; but as he had discarded the coat and badge, and wore a short smock-frock over his leathers, there seemed no particular reason for his appearance exciting so much attention in a public-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, recommended us here,’ said Noah, nudging Charlotte, perhaps to call her attention to this most ingenious device for attracting respect, and perhaps to warn her to betray no surprise. ‘We want to sleep here to-night.’

‘I’b dot certaid you cad,’ said Barney, who was the attendant sprite; ‘but I’ll idquire.’

‘Show us the tap, and give us a bit of cold meat and a drop of beer while yer inquiring, will yer?’ said Noah.

Barney complied by ushering them into a small back-room, and setting the required viands before them; having done which, he informed the travellers that they could be lodged that night, and left the amiable couple to their refreshment.

Now, this back-room was immediately behind the bar, and some steps lower, so that any person connected with the house, undrawing a small curtain which concealed 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 in the back-room without any great hazard of being observed (the glass being in a dark angle of the wall, between which and a large upright beam the observer had to thrust himself), but could, by applying his ear to the partition, ascertain with tolerable distinctness, their subject of conversation. The landlord of the house had not withdrawn his eye from this place of espial for five minutes, and Barney had only just returned from making the communication above related, when Fagin, in the course of his evening’s business, came into the bar to inquire 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, but subthig 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, from which secret post he could see Mr. Claypole taking cold beef from the dish, and porter 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 that fellow’s looks. He’d be of use to us; he knows how to train the girl already. Don’t make as much noise as a mouse, my dear, and let me hear ’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 might have appertained to some old goblin.

‘So I mean to be a gentleman,’ said Mr. Claypole, kicking out his legs, and continuing a conversation, the commencement of which Fagin had arrived too late to hear. ‘No more jolly old coffins, Charlotte, but a gentleman’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 clear off after it.’

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