Oliver Twist – Day 139 of 173

‘Ha! ha!’ laughed Master Bates, ‘what a lark that would be, wouldn’t it, Fagin? I say, how the Artful would bother ’em wouldn’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 his pupil.

‘So do I,’ cried Charley Bates. ‘Ha! ha! ha! so do I. I see it 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 son making a speech arter dinner–ha! ha! ha!’

In fact, Mr. Fagin had so well humoured his young friend’s eccentric disposition, that Master Bates, who had at first been disposed to consider the imprisoned Dodger rather in the light of a victim, now looked upon him as the chief actor in a scene of most uncommon and exquisite humour, and felt quite impatient for the arrival of the time when his old companion should have so favourable 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 with a 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 to mind?’

‘Really nothing, my dear,’ said Fagin, turning to Mr. Bolter, ‘really nothing.’

‘Oh, I dare say about that, yer know,’ observed Noah, backing towards the door, and shaking his head with a kind of sober alarm. ‘No, no–none of that. It’s not in my department, that ain’t.’

‘Wot department has he got, Fagin?’ inquired Master Bates, surveying Noah’s lank form with much disgust. ‘The cutting away when there’s anything wrong, and the eating all the wittles when there’s everything right; is that his branch?’

‘Never mind,’ retorted Mr. Bolter; ‘and don’t yer take liberties with yer superiors, little boy, or yer’ll find yerself in the wrong shop.’

Master Bates laughed so vehemently at this magnificent threat, that it was some time before Fagin could interpose, and represent to Mr. Bolter that he incurred no possible danger in visiting the police-office; that, inasmuch as no account of the little affair in which he had engaged, nor any description of his person, had yet been forwarded to the metropolis, it was very probable that he was not even suspected of having resorted to it for shelter; and that, if he were properly disguised, it would be as safe a spot for him to visit as any in London, inasmuch as it would be, of all places, the very last, to which he could be supposed likely to resort of his own free will.

Persuaded, in part, by these representations, but overborne in a much greater degree by his fear of Fagin, Mr. Bolter at length consented, with a very bad grace, to undertake the expedition. By Fagin’s directions, he immediately substituted for his own attire, a waggoner’s frock, velveteen breeches, and leather leggings: all of which articles the Jew had at hand. He was likewise furnished with a felt hat well garnished with turnpike tickets; and a carter’s whip. Thus equipped, he was to saunter into the office, as some country fellow from Covent Garden market might be supposed to do for the gratification of his curiousity; and as he was as awkward, ungainly, and raw-boned a fellow as need be, Mr. Fagin had no fear but that he would look the part to perfection.

These arrangements completed, he was informed of the necessary signs and tokens by which to recognise the Artful Dodger, and was conveyed by Master Bates through dark and winding ways to within a very short distance of Bow Street. Having described the precise situation of the office, and accompanied it with copious directions how he was to walk straight up the passage, and when he got into the side, and pull off his hat as he went into the room, Charley Bates bade him hurry on alone, and promised to bide his return on the spot of their parting.

Noah Claypole, or Morris Bolter as the reader pleases, punctually followed the directions he had received, which–Master Bates being pretty well acquainted with the locality–were so exact that he was enabled to gain the magisterial presence without asking any question, or meeting with any interruption by the way.

He found himself jostled among a crowd of people, chiefly women, who were huddled together in a dirty frowsy room, at the upper end of which was a raised platform railed off from the rest, with a dock for the prisoners on the left hand against the wall, a box for the witnesses in the middle, and a desk for the magistrates on the right; the awful locality last named, being screened off by a partition which concealed the bench from the common gaze, and left the vulgar to imagine (if they could) the full majesty of justice.

There were only a couple of women in the dock, who were nodding to their admiring friends, while the clerk read some depositions to a couple of policemen and a man in plain clothes who leant over the table. A jailer stood reclining against the dock-rail, tapping his nose listlessly with a large key, except when he repressed an undue tendency to conversation among the idlers, by proclaiming silence; or looked sternly up to bid some woman ‘Take that baby out,’ when the gravity of justice was disturbed by feeble cries, half-smothered in the mother’s shawl, from some meagre infant. The room smelt close and unwholesome; the walls were dirt-discoloured; and the ceiling blackened. There was an old smoky bust over the mantel-shelf, and a dusty clock above 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 a taint on all the animate matter, hardly less unpleasant than the thick greasy scum on every inamimate object that frowned upon it.

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