Oliver Twist – Day 36 of 173

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

‘None of your mistering,’ replied the ruffian; ‘you always mean mischief when you come that. You know my name: out with it! I shan’t disgrace it when the time comes.’

‘Well, well, then–Bill Sikes,’ said the Jew, with abject humility. ‘You seem out of humour, Bill.’

‘Perhaps I am,’ replied Sikes; ‘I should think you was rather out of sorts too, unless you mean as little harm when you throw pewter pots about, as you do when you blab and–‘

‘Are you mad?’ said the Jew, catching the man by the sleeve, and pointing 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 the Jew appeared to understand perfectly. He then, in cant terms, with which his whole conversation was plentifully besprinkled, but which would be quite unintelligible if they were recorded here, demanded a glass of liquor.

‘And mind you don’t poison it,’ said Mr. Sikes, laying his hat upon the table.

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

After swallowing two of three glasses of spirits, Mr. Sikes condescended to take some notice of the young gentlemen; which gracious act led to a conversation, in which the cause and manner of Oliver’s capture were circumstantially 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 something which 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 he had not noticed the interruption; and regarding the other closely as he did so,–‘I’m afraid that, if the game was up with us, it might be up with a good many more, and that it would come out rather worse for you than it would for me, my dear.’

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

There was a long pause. Every member of the respectable coterie appeared plunged in his own reflections; not excepting the dog, who by a certain malicious licking of his lips seemed to be meditating an attack upon the legs of the first gentleman or lady he might encounter in the streets when he went out.

‘Somebody must find out wot’s been done at the office,’ said Mr. 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 till he comes out again,’ said Mr. Sikes, ‘and then he must be taken care 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 the Dodger, and Charley Bates, and Fagin, and Mr. William Sikes, happened, one and all, to entertain a violent and deeply-rooted antipathy to going near a police-office on any ground or pretext whatever.

How long they might have sat and looked at each other, in a state of uncertainty not the most pleasant of its kind, it is difficult to guess. It is not necessary to make any guesses on the subject, however; for the sudden entrance 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’t you, 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 she would not, but that she merely expressed an emphatic and earnest desire to be ‘blessed’ if she would; a polite and delicate evasion of the request, which shows the young lady to have been possessed of that natural good breeding which cannot bear to inflict upon a fellow-creature, the pain of a direct and pointed refusal.

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

‘Nancy, my dear,’ said the Jew in a soothing manner, ‘what do you 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 surly manner.

‘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 in the 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 agreeable friend; for, having recently removed into the neighborhood of Field Lane from the remote but genteel suburb of Ratcliffe, she was not under the same apprehension of being recognised by any of her numerous acquaintances.

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