Oliver Twist (1838)/Volume 1/Chapter 9
Containing further particulars concerning the pleasant Old Gentleman, and his hopeful pupils.
It was late next morning when Oliver awoke from a sound, long sleep. There was no other person in the room but the old Jew, who was boiling some coffee in a saucepan for breakfast, and whistling softly to himself as he stirred it round and round with an iron spoon. He would stop every now and then to listen when there was the least noise below; and, when he had satisfied himself, he would go on whistling and stirring again as before.
Although Oliver had roused himself from sleep, he was not thoroughly awake. There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and wakening, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At such times, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing to form some glimmering conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its corporeal associate.
Oliver was precisely in this condition. He saw the Jew with his half-closed eyes, heard his low whistling, and recognised the sound of the spoon grating against the saucepan's sides; and yet the self-same senses were mentally engaged at the same time in busy action with almost everybody he had ever known.
When the coffee was done, the Jew drew the saucepan to the hob, and, standing in an irresolute attitude for a few minutes, as if he did not well know how to employ himself, turned round and looked at Oliver, and called him by his name. He did not answer, and was to all appearance asleep.
After satisfying himself upon this head, the Jew stepped gently to the door, which he fastened; he then drew forth, as it seemed to Oliver, from some trap in the floor, a small box, which he placed carefully on the table. His eyes glistened as he raised the lid and looked in. Dragging an old chair to the table, he sat down, and took from it a magnificent gold watch, sparkling with diamonds.
"Aha!" said the Jew, shrugging up his shoulders, and distorting every feature with a hideous grin. "Clever dogs! clever dogs!—Staunch to the last! Never told the old parson where they were; never peached upon old Fagin. And why should they? It wouldn't have loosened the knot, or kept the drop up a minute longer. No, no, no! Fine fellows!—fine fellows!"
With these and other muttered reflections of the like nature, the Jew once more deposited the watch in its place of safety. At least half a dozen more were severally drawn forth from the same box, and surveyed with equal pleasure; besides rings, brooches, bracelets, and other articles of jewellery, of such magnificent materials and costly workmanship that Oliver had no idea even of their names.
Having replaced these trinkets, the Jew took out another, so small that it lay in the palm of his hand. There seemed to be some very minute inscription on it, for the Jew laid it flat upon the table, and, shading it with his hand, pored over it long and earnestly. At length he put it down as if despairing of success, and, leaning back in his chair, muttered,—
"What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead men never bring awkward stories to light. Ah, it 's a fine thing for the trade! Five of them strung up in a row, and none left to play booty or turn white-livered!"
As the Jew uttered these words, his bright dark eyes which had been staring vacantly before him, fell on Oliver's face; the boy's eyes were fixed on his in mute curiosity, and, although the recognition was only for an instant—for the briefest space of time that can possibly be conceived,—it was enough to show the old man that he had been observed. He closed the lid of the box with a loud crash, and, laying his hand on a bread-knife which was on the table, started furiously up. He trembled very much though; for, even in his terror, Oliver could see that the knife quivered in the air.
"What's that?" said the Jew. "What do you watch me for? Why are you awake? What have you seen? Speak out, boy! Quick—quick! for your life!"
"I wasn't able to sleep any longer, sir," replied Oliver, meekly. "I am very sorry if I have disturbed you, sir."
"You were not awake an hour ago?" said the Jew, scowling fiercely on the boy.
"No—no, indeed, sir," replied Oliver.
"Are you sure?" cried the Jew, with a still fiercer look than before, and a threatening attitude.
"Upon my word I was not, sir," replied Oliver, earnestly. "I was not, indeed, sir."
"Tush, tush, my dear!" said the Jew, abruptly resuming his old manner, and playing with the knife a little, before he laid it down, as if to induce the belief that he had caught it up in mere sport. "Of course I know that, my dear. I only tried to frighten you. You 're a brave boy. Ha! ha! you 're a brave boy, Oliver!" and the Jew rubbed his hands with a chuckle, but looked uneasily at the box notwithstanding.
"Did you see any of these pretty things, my dear?" said the Jew, laying his hand upon it after a short pause.
"Yes, sir," replied Oliver.
"Ah!" said the Jew, turning rather pale.
"They—they 're mine, Oliver; my little property. All I have to live upon in my old age. The folks call me a miser, my dear,—only a miser; that's all."
Oliver thought the old gentleman must be a decided miser to live in such a dirty place, with so many watches; but, thinking that perhaps his fondness for the Dodger and the other boys cost him a good deal of money, he only cast a deferential look at the Jew, and asked if he might get up.
"Certainly, my dear,—certainly," replied the old gentleman. "Stay. There s a pitcher of water in the corner by the door. Bring it here, and I 'll give you a basin to wash in, my dear."
Oliver got up, walked across the room, and stooped for one instant to raise the pitcher. When he turned his head, the box was gone.
He had scarcely washed himself and made everything tidy by emptying the basin out of the window, agreeably to the Jew's directions, than the Dodger returned, accompanied by a very sprightly young friend whom Oliver had seen smoking on the previous night, and who was now formally introduced to him as Charley Bates. The four sat down to breakfast upon the coffee and some hot rolls and ham which the Dodger had brought home in the crown of his hat.
"Well," said the Jew, glancing slyly at Oliver, and addressing himself to the Dodger, "I hope you've been at work this morning, my dears."
"Hard," replied the Dodger.
"As nails," added Charley Bates.
"Good boys, good boys!" said the Jew. "What have you got, Dodger?"
"A couple of pocket-books," replied that young gentleman.
"Lined?" inquired the Jew with trembling eagerness.
"Pretty well," replied the Dodger, producing two pocket-books, one green and the other red.
"Not so heavy as they might be," said the Jew, after looking at the insides carefully; "but very neat and nicely made. Ingenious workman, ain't he, Oliver?"
"Very, indeed, sir," said Oliver. At which Mr. Charles Bates laughed uproariously, very much to the amazement of Oliver, who saw nothing to laugh at, in anything that had passed.
"And what have you got, my dear?" said Fagin to Charley Bates.
"Wipes," replied Master Bates: at the same time producing four pocket-handkerchiefs.
"Well," said the Jew, inspecting them closely; "They 're very good ones,—very. You haven't marked them well, though, Charley; so the marks shall be picked out with a needle, and we'll teach Oliver how to do it. Shall us, Oliver, eh?—Ha! ha! ha!"
"If you please, sir," said Oliver.
"You'd like to be able to make pocket-handkerchiefs as easy as Charley Bates, wouldn't you, my dear?" said the Jew.
"Very much indeed, if you'll teach me, sir," replied Oliver.
Master Bates saw something so exquisitely ludicrous in this reply that he burst into another laugh; which laugh meeting the coffee he was drinking, and carrying it down some wrong channel, very nearly terminated in his premature suffocation.
"He is so jolly green!" said Charley when he recovered, as an apology to the company for his unpolite behaviour.
The Dodger said nothing, but he smoothed Oliver's hair down over his eyes, and said he 'd know better by-and-by; upon which the old gentleman, observing Oliver's colour mounting, changed the subject by asking whether there had been much of a crowd at the execution that morning. This made him wonder more and more, for it was plain from the replies of the two boys that they had both been there, and Oliver naturally wondered how they could possibly have found time to be so very industrious.
When the breakfast was cleared away, the merry old gentleman and the two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, which was performed in this way:—The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in the other, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard chain round his neck,—and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt, buttoned his coat tight round him, and, putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in the pockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets every hour in the day. Sometimes he stopped at the fire-place, and sometimes at the door, making belief that he was staring with all his might into shop-windows. At such times he would look constantly round him for fear of thieves, and keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to see that he hadn't lost anything, in such a very funny and natural manner, that Oliver laughed till the tears ran down his face. All this time the two boys followed him closely about, getting out of his sight so nimbly every time he turned round, that it was impossible to follow their motions. At last the Dodger trod upon his toes, or ran upon his boot accidentally, while Charley Bates stumbled up against him behind; and in that one moment they took from him with the most extraordinary rapidity snuff-box, note-case, watch-guard, chain, shirt-pin, pocket-handkerchief,—even the spectacle-case. If the old gentleman felt a hand in any one of his pockets, he cried out where it was, and then the game began all over again.
When this game had been played a great many times, a couple of young ladies came to see the young gentlemen; one of whom was called Bet, and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quite stout and hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliver thought them very nice girls indeed, as there is no doubt they were.
These visitors stopped a long time. Spirits were produced, in consequence of one of the young ladies complaining of a coldness in her inside, and the conversation took a very convivial and improving turn. At length Charley Bates expressed his opinion that it was time to pad the hoof, which it occurred to Oliver must be French for going out; for directly afterwards, the Dodger, and Charley, and the two young ladies, went away together, having been kindly furnished with money to spend by the amiable old Jew.
"There, my dear," said Fagin, "that's a pleasant life, isn't it? They have gone out for the day."
"Have they done work, sir?" inquired Oliver.
"Yes," said the Jew;" that is, unless they should unexpectedly come across any when they are out; and they won't neglect it if they do, my dear, depend upon it."
"Make 'em your models, my dear, make 'em your models," said the Jew, tapping the fire-shovel on the hearth to add force to his words; "do everything they bid you, and take their advice in all matters, especially the Dodger's, my dear. He 'll be a great man himself, and make you one too, if you take pattern by him. Is my handkerchief hanging out of my pocket, my dear?" said the Jew, stopping short.
"Yes, sir," said Oliver.
"See if you can take it out without my feeling it, as you saw them do, when we were at play this morning."
Oliver held up the bottom of the pocket with one hand as he had seen the Dodger hold it, and drew the handkerchief lightly out of it with the other.
"Is it gone?" cried the Jew.
"Here it is, sir," said Oliver, showing it in his hand.
"You 're a clever boy, my dear," said the playful old gentleman, patting Oliver on the head approvingly; "I never saw a sharper lad. Here 's a shilling for you. If you go on in this way, you'll be the greatest man of the time. And now come here, and I 'll show you how to take the marks out of the handkerchiefs."
Oliver wondered what picking the old gentleman's pocket in play had to do with his chances of being a great man; but thinking that the Jew, being so much his senior, must know best, followed him quietly to the table, and was soon deeply involved in his new study.