HOW OLIVER PASSED HIS TIME IN THE
IMPROVING SOCIETY OF HIS REPUTABLE FRIENDS
About noon next day, when the Dodger
and Master Bates had gone out to pursue their customary
avocations, Mr. Fagin took the opportunity of reading
Oliver a long lecture on the crying sin of ingratitude;
of which he clearly demonstrated he had been guilty,
to no ordinary extent, in wilfully absenting himself
from the society of his anxious friends; and, still
more, in endeavouring to escape from them after so
much trouble and expense had been incurred in his recovery.
Mr. Fagin laid great stress on the fact of his having
taken Oliver in, and cherished him, when, without
his timely aid, he might have perished with hunger;
and he related the dismal and affecting history of
a young lad whom, in his philanthropy, he had succoured
under parallel circumstances, but who, proving unworthy
of his confidence and evincing a desire to communicate
with the police, had unfortunately come to be hanged
at the Old Bailey one morning. Mr. Fagin did
not seek to conceal his share in the catastrophe,
but lamented with tears in his eyes that the wrong-headed
and treacherous behaviour of the young person in question,
had rendered it necessary that he should become the
victim of certain evidence for the crown: which,
if it were not precisely true, was indispensably necessary
for the safety of him (Mr. Fagin) and a few select
friends. Mr. Fagin concluded by drawing a rather
disagreeable picture of the discomforts of hanging;
and, with great friendliness and politeness of manner,
expressed his anxious hopes that he might never be
obliged to submit Oliver Twist to that unpleasant
Little Oliver’s blood ran cold,
as he listened to the Jew’s words, and imperfectly
comprehended the dark threats conveyed in them.
That it was possible even for justice itself to confound
the innocent with the guilty when they were in accidental
companionship, he knew already; and that deeply-laid
plans for the destruction of inconveniently knowing
or over-communicative persons, had been really devised
and carried out by the Jew on more occasions than
one, he thought by no means unlikely, when he recollected
the general nature of the altercations between that
gentleman and Mr. Sikes: which seemed to bear
reference to some foregone conspiracy of the kind.
As he glanced timidly up, and met the Jew’s
searching look, he felt that his pale face and trembling
limbs were neither unnoticed nor unrelished by that
wary old gentleman.
The Jew, smiling hideously, patted
Oliver on the head, and said, that if he kept himself
quiet, and applied himself to business, he saw they
would be very good friends yet. Then, taking
his hat, and covering himself with an old patched
great-coat, he went out, and locked the room-door
And so Oliver remained all that day,
and for the greater part of many subsequent days,
seeing nobody, between early morning and midnight,
and left during the long hours to commune with his
own thoughts. Which, never failing to revert
to his kind friends, and the opinion they must long
ago have formed of him, were sad indeed.
After the lapse of a week or so, the
Jew left the room-door unlocked; and he was at liberty
to wander about the house.
It was a very dirty place. The
rooms upstairs had great high wooden chimney-pieces
and large doors, with panelled walls and cornices to
the ceiling; which, although they were black with
neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways.
From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a
long time ago, before the old Jew was born, it had
belonged to better people, and had perhaps been quite
gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked
Spiders had built their webs in the
angles of the walls and ceilings; and sometimes, when
Oliver walked softly into a room, the mice would scamper
across the floor, and run back terrified to their holes.
With these exceptions, there was neither sight nor
sound of any living thing; and often, when it grew
dark, and he was tired of wandering from room to room,
he would crouch in the corner of the passage by the
street-door, to be as near living people as he could;
and would remain there, listening and counting the
hours, until the Jew or the boys returned.
In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters
were fast closed: the bars which held them were
screwed tight into the wood; the only light which
was admitted, stealing its way through round holes
at the top: which made the rooms more gloomy,
and filled them with strange shadows. There was
a back-garret window with rusty bars outside, which
had no shutter; and out of this, Oliver often gazed
with a melancholy face for hours together; but nothing
was to be descried from it but a confused and crowded
mass of housetops, blackened chimneys, and gable-ends.
Sometimes, indeed, a grizzly head might be seen, peering
over the parapet-wall of a distant house; but it was
quickly withdrawn again; and as the window of Oliver’s
observatory was nailed down, and dimmed with the rain
and smoke of years, it was as much as he could do to
make out the forms of the different objects beyond,
without making any attempt to be seen or heard, which
he had as much chance of being, as if he had lived
inside the ball of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
One afternoon, the Dodger and Master
Bates being engaged out that evening, the first-named
young gentleman took it into his head to evince some
anxiety regarding the decoration of his person (to
do him justice, this was by no means an habitual weakness
with him); and, with this end and aim, he condescendingly
commanded Oliver to assist him in his toilet, straightway.
Oliver was but too glad to make himself
useful; too happy to have some faces, however bad,
to look upon; too desirous to conciliate those about
him when he could honestly do so; to throw any objection
in the way of this proposal. So he at once expressed
his readiness; and, kneeling on the floor, while the
Dodger sat upon the table so that he could take his
foot in his laps, he applied himself to a process which
Mr. Dawkins designated as ‘japanning his trotter-cases.’
The phrase, rendered into plain English, signifieth,
cleaning his boots.
Whether it was the sense of freedom
and independence which a rational animal may be supposed
to feel when he sits on a table in an easy attitude
smoking a pipe, swinging one leg carelessly to and
fro, and having his boots cleaned all the time, without
even the past trouble of having taken them off, or
the prospective misery of putting them on, to disturb
his reflections; or whether it was the goodness of
the tobacco that soothed the feelings of the Dodger,
or the mildness of the beer that mollified his thoughts;
he was evidently tinctured, for the nonce, with a
spice of romance and enthusiasm, foreign to his general
nature. He looked down on Oliver, with a thoughtful
countenance, for a brief space; and then, raising
his head, and heaving a gentle sign, said, half in
abstraction, and half to Master Bates:
‘What a pity it is he isn’t a prig!’
‘Ah!’ said Master Charles Bates; ‘he
don’t know what’s good for him.’
The Dodger sighed again, and resumed
his pipe: as did Charley Bates. They both
smoked, for some seconds, in silence.
‘I suppose you don’t even
know what a prig is?’ said the Dodger mournfully.
‘I think I know that,’
replied Oliver, looking up. ’It’s
a the ; you’re one, are you not?’
inquired Oliver, checking himself.
‘I am,’ replied the Doger.
‘I’d scorn to be anything else.’
Mr. Dawkins gave his hat a ferocious cock, after
delivering this sentiment, and looked at Master Bates,
as if to denote that he would feel obliged by his
saying anything to the contrary.
‘I am,’ repeated the Dodger.
’So’s Charley. So’s Fagin.
So’s Sikes. So’s Nancy. So’s
Bet. So we all are, down to the dog. And
he’s the downiest one of the lot!’
‘And the least given to peaching,’ added
’He wouldn’t so much as
bark in a witness-box, for fear of committing himself;
no, not if you tied him up in one, and left him there
without wittles for a fortnight,’ said the Dodger.
‘Not a bit of it,’ observed Charley.
’He’s a rum dog.
Don’t he look fierce at any strange cove that
laughs or sings when he’s in company!’
pursued the Dodger. ’Won’t he growl
at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! And
don’t he hate other dogs as ain’t of his
breed! Oh, no!’
‘He’s an out-and-out Christian,’
This was merely intended as a tribute
to the animal’s abilities, but it was an appropriate
remark in another sense, if Master Bates had only
known it; for there are a good many ladies and gentlemen,
claiming to be out-and-out Christians, between whom,
and Mr. Sikes’ dog, there exist strong and singular
points of resemblance.
‘Well, well,’ said the
Dodger, recurring to the point from which they had
strayed: with that mindfulness of his profession
which influenced all his proceedings. ’This
hasn’t go anything to do with young Green here.’
‘No more it has,’ said
Charley. ’Why don’t you put yourself
under Fagin, Oliver?’
‘And make your fortun’
out of hand?’ added the Dodger, with a grin.
’And so be able to retire on
your property, and do the gen-teel: as I mean
to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever comes,
and the forty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,’
said Charley Bates.
‘I don’t like it,’
rejoined Oliver, timidly; ’I wish they would
let me go. I I would rather
‘And Fagin would RATHER not!’ rejoined
Oliver knew this too well; but thinking
it might be dangerous to express his feelings more
openly, he only sighed, and went on with his boot-cleaning.
‘Go!’ exclaimed the Dodger.
‘Why, where’s your spirit?’ Don’t
you take any pride out of yourself? Would you
go and be dependent on your friends?’
‘Oh, blow that!’ said
Master Bates: drawing two or three silk handkerchiefs
from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard,
‘that’s too mean; that is.’
‘I couldn’t do
it,’ said the Dodger, with an air of haughty
‘You can leave your friends,
though,’ said Oliver with a half smile; ‘and
let them be punished for what you did.’
‘That,’ rejoined the Dodger,
with a wave of his pipe, ’That was all out of
consideration for Fagin, ’cause the traps know
that we work together, and he might have got into
trouble if we hadn’t made our lucky; that was
the move, wasn’t it, Charley?’
Master Bates nodded assent, and would
have spoken, but the recollection of Oliver’s
flight came so suddenly upon him, that the smoke he
was inhaling got entangled with a laugh, and went
up into his head, and down into his throat: and
brought on a fit of coughing and stamping, about five
‘Look here!’ said the
Dodger, drawing forth a handful of shillings and halfpence.
’Here’s a jolly life! What’s
the odds where it comes from? Here, catch hold;
there’s plenty more where they were took from.
You won’t, won’t you? Oh, you precious
‘It’s naughty, ain’t
it, Oliver?’ inquired Charley Bates. ’He’ll
come to be scragged, won’t he?’
‘I don’t know what that means,’
‘Something in this way, old
feller,’ said Charly. As he said it, Master
Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding
it erect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder,
and jerked a curious sound through his teeth; thereby
indicating, by a lively pantomimic representation,
that scragging and hanging were one and the same thing.
‘That’s what it means,’
said Charley. ’Look how he stares, Jack!
I never did see such prime company
as that ’ere boy; he’ll be the death of
me, I know he will.’ Master Charley Bates,
having laughed heartily again, resumed his pipe with
tears in his eyes.
‘You’ve been brought up
bad,’ said the Dodger, surveying his boots with
much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them.
’Fagin will make something of you, though, or
you’ll be the first he ever had that turned
out unprofitable. You’d better begin at
once; for you’ll come to the trade long before
you think of it; and you’re only losing time,
Master Bates backed this advice with
sundry moral admonitions of his own: which,
being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkins launched
into a glowing description of the numerous pleasures
incidental to the life they led, interspersed with
a variety of hints to Oliver that the best thing he
could do, would be to secure Fagin’s favour without
more delay, by the means which they themselves had
employed to gain it.
‘And always put this in your
pipe, Nolly,’ said the Dodger, as the Jew was
heard unlocking the door above, ’if you don’t
take fogels and tickers ’
‘What’s the good of talking
in that way?’ interposed Master Bates; ’he
don’t know what you mean.’
‘If you don’t take pocket-handkechers
and watches,’ said the Dodger, reducing his
conversation to the level of Oliver’s capacity,
’some other cove will; so that the coves that
lose ’em will be all the worse, and you’ll
be all the worse, too, and nobody half a ha’p’orth
the better, except the chaps wot gets them and
you’ve just as good a right to them as they
‘To be sure, to be sure!’
said the Jew, who had entered unseen by Oliver.
’It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell,
take the Dodger’s word for it. Ha! ha!
ha! He understands the catechism of his trade.’
The old man rubbed his hands gleefully
together, as he corroborated the Dodger’s reasoning
in these terms; and chuckled with delight at his pupil’s
The conversation proceeded no farther
at this time, for the Jew had returned home accompanied
by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whom Oliver had never
seen before, but who was accosted by the Dodger as
Tom Chitling; and who, having lingered on the stairs
to exchange a few gallantries with the lady, now made
Mr. Chitling was older in years than
the Dodger: having perhaps numbered eighteen
winters; but there was a degree of deference in his
deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed
to indicate that he felt himself conscious of a slight
inferiority in point of genius and professional aquirements.
He had small twinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face;
wore a fur cap, a dark corduroy jacket, greasy fustian
trousers, and an apron. His wardrobe was, in
truth, rather out of repair; but he excused himself
to the company by stating that his ‘time’
was only out an hour before; and that, in consequence
of having worn the regimentals for six weeks past,
he had not been able to bestow any attention on his
private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, with strong
marks of irritation, that the new way of fumigating
clothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional, for
it burnt holes in them, and there was no remedy against
the County. The same remark he considered to
apply to the regulation mode of cutting the hair:
which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr.
Chitling wound up his observations by stating that
he had not touched a drop of anything for forty-two
moral long hard-working days; and that he ’wished
he might be busted if he warn’t as dry as a
‘Where do you think the gentleman
has come from, Oliver?’ inquired the Jew, with
a grin, as the other boys put a bottle of spirits on
‘I I don’t know,
sir,’ replied Oliver.
‘Who’s that?’ inquired
Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous look at Oliver.
‘A young friend of mine, my dear,’ replied
‘He’s in luck, then,’
said the young man, with a meaning look at Fagin.
’Never mind where I came from, young ’un;
you’ll find your way there, soon enough, I’ll
bet a crown!’
At this sally, the boys laughed.
After some more jokes on the same subject, they exchanged
a few short whispers with Fagin; and withdrew.
After some words apart between the
last comer and Fagin, they drew their chairs towards
the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver to come and
sit by him, led the conversation to the topics most
calculated to interest his hearers. These were,
the great advantages of the trade, the proficiency
of the Dodger, the amiability of Charley Bates, and
the liberality of the Jew himself. At length
these subjects displayed signs of being thoroughly
exhausted; and Mr. Chitling did the same: for
the house of correction becomes fatiguing after a week
or two. Miss Betsy accordingly withdrew; and
left the party to their repose.
From this day, Oliver was seldom left
alone; but was placed in almost constant communication
with the two boys, who played the old game with the
Jew every day: whether for their own improvement
or Oliver’s, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other
times the old man would tell them stories of robberies
he had committed in his younger days: mixed up
with so much that was droll and curious, that Oliver
could not help laughing heartily, and showing that
he was amused in spite of all his better feelings.
In short, the wily old Jew had the
boy in his toils. Having prepared his mind,
by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the
companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary
place, he was now slowly instilling into his soul
the poison which he hoped would blacken it, and change
its hue for ever.