AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE OF OLIVER’S,
EXHIBITING DECIDED MARKS OF GENIUS, BECOMES A PUBLIC
CHARACTER IN THE METROPOLIS
Upon the night when Nancy, having
lulled Mr. Sikes to sleep, hurried on her self-imposed
mission to Rose Maylie, there advanced towards London,
by the Great North Road, two persons, upon whom it
is expedient that this history should bestow some
They were a man and woman; or perhaps
they would be better described as a male and female:
for the former was one of those long-limbed, knock-kneed,
shambling, bony people, to whom it is difficult to
assign any precise age, looking as they
do, when they are yet boys, like undergrown men, and
when they are almost men, like overgrown boys.
The woman was young, but of a robust and hardy make,
as she need have been to bear the weight of the heavy
bundle which was strapped to her back. Her companion
was not encumbered with much luggage, as there merely
dangled from a stick which he carried over his shoulder,
a small parcel wrapped in a common handkerchief, and
apparently light enough. This circumstance,
added to the length of his legs, which were of unusual
extent, enabled him with much ease to keep some half-dozen
paces in advance of his companion, to whom he occasionally
turned with an impatient jerk of the head: as
if reproaching her tardiness, and urging her to greater
Thus, they had toiled along the dusty
road, taking little heed of any object within sight,
save when they stepped aside to allow a wider passage
for the mail-coaches which were whirling out of town,
until they passed through Highgate archway; when the
foremost traveller stopped and called impatiently
to his companion,
‘Come on, can’t yer?
What a lazybones yer are, Charlotte.’
‘It’s a heavy load, I
can tell you,’ said the female, coming up, almost
breathless with fatigue.
‘Heavy! What are yer talking
about? What are yer made for?’ rejoined
the male traveller, changing his own little bundle
as he spoke, to the other shoulder. ’Oh,
there yer are, resting again! Well, if yer ain’t
enough to tire anybody’s patience out, I don’t
know what is!’
‘Is it much farther?’
asked the woman, resting herself against a bank, and
looking up with the perspiration streaming from her
‘Much farther! Yer as
good as there,’ said the long-legged tramper,
pointing out before him. ‘Look there!
Those are the lights of London.’
‘They’re a good two mile
off, at least,’ said the woman despondingly.
‘Never mind whether they’re
two mile off, or twenty,’ said Noah Claypole;
for he it was; ’but get up and come on, or I’ll
kick yer, and so I give yer notice.’
As Noah’s red nose grew redder
with anger, and as he crossed the road while speaking,
as if fully prepared to put his threat into execution,
the woman rose without any further remark, and trudged
onward by his side.
‘Where do you mean to stop for
the night, Noah?’ she asked, after they had
walked a few hundred yards.
‘How should I know?’ replied
Noah, whose temper had been considerably impaired
‘Near, I hope,’ said Charlotte.
‘No, not near,’ replied
Mr. Claypole. ’There! Not near; so
don’t think it.’
’When I tell yer that I don’t
mean to do a thing, that’s enough, without any
why or because either,’ replied Mr. Claypole
‘Well, you needn’t be so cross,’
said his companion.
’A pretty thing it would be,
wouldn’t it to go and stop at the very first
public-house outside the town, so that Sowerberry,
if he come up after us, might poke in his old nose,
and have us taken back in a cart with handcuffs on,’
said Mr. Claypole in a jeering tone. ’No!
I shall go and lose myself among the narrowest streets
I can find, and not stop till we come to the very
out-of-the-wayest house I can set eyes on. ’Cod,
yer may thanks yer stars I’ve got a head; for
if we hadn’t gone, at first, the wrong road
a purpose, and come back across country, yer’d
have been locked up hard and fast a week ago, my lady.
And serve yer right for being a fool.’
‘I know I ain’t as cunning
as you are,’ replied Charlotte; ’but don’t
put all the blame on me, and say I should have been
locked up. You would have been if I had been,
‘Yer took the money from the
till, yer know yer did,’ said Mr. Claypole.
‘I took it for you, Noah, dear,’ rejoined
‘Did I keep it?’ asked Mr. Claypole.
’No; you trusted in me, and
let me carry it like a dear, and so you are,’
said the lady, chucking him under the chin, and drawing
her arm through his.
This was indeed the case; but as it
was not Mr. Claypole’s habit to repose a blind
and foolish confidence in anybody, it should be observed,
in justice to that gentleman, that he had trusted Charlotte
to this extent, in order that, if they were pursued,
the money might be found on her: which would
leave him an opportunity of asserting his innocence
of any theft, and would greatly facilitate his chances
of escape. Of course, he entered at this juncture,
into no explanation of his motives, and they walked
on very lovingly together.
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
‘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
’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
‘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
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
‘Tills be blowed!’ said
Mr. Claypole; ’there’s more things besides
tills to be emptied.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked his companion.
‘Pockets, women’s ridicules,
houses, mail-coaches, banks!’ said Mr. Claypole,
rising with the porter.
‘But you can’t do all that, dear,’
‘I shall look out to get into
company with them as can,’ replied Noah.
’They’ll be able to make us useful some
way or another. Why, you yourself are worth fifty
women; I never see such a precious sly and deceitful
creetur as yer can be when I let yer.’
‘Lor, how nice it is to hear
yer say so!’ exclaimed Charlotte, imprinting
a kiss upon his ugly face.
’There, that’ll do:
don’t yer be too affectionate, in case I’m
cross with yer,’ said Noah, disengaging himself
with great gravity. ’I should like to
be the captain of some band, and have the whopping
of ’em, and follering ’em about, unbeknown
to themselves. That would suit me, if there
was good profit; and if we could only get in with some
gentleman of this sort, I say it would be cheap at
that twenty-pound note you’ve got, especially
as we don’t very well know how to get rid of
After expressing this opinion, Mr.
Claypole looked into the porter-pot with an aspect
of deep wisdom; and having well shaken its contents,
nodded condescendingly to Charlotte, and took a draught,
wherewith he appeared greatly refreshed. He
was meditating another, when the sudden opening of
the door, and the appearance of a stranger, interrupted
The stranger was Mr. Fagin.
And very amiable he looked, and a very low bow he
made, as he advanced, and setting himself down at the
nearest table, ordered something to drink of the grinning
‘A pleasant night, sir, but
cool for the time of year,’ said Fagin, rubbing
his hands. ‘From the country, I see, sir?’
‘How do yer see that?’ asked Noah Claypole.
‘We have not so much dust as
that in London,’ replied Fagin, pointing from
Noah’s shoes to those of his companion, and from
them to the two bundles.
‘Yer a sharp feller,’
said Noah. ‘Ha! ha! only hear that, Charlotte!’
‘Why, one need be sharp in this
town, my dear,’ replied the Jew, sinking his
voice to a confidential whisper; ‘and that’s
Fagin followed up this remark by striking
the side of his nose with his right forefinger, a
gesture which Noah attempted to imitate, though not
with complete success, in consequence of his own nose
not being large enough for the purpose. However,
Mr. Fagin seemed to interpret the endeavour as expressing
a perfect coincidence with his opinion, and put about
the liquor which Barney reappeared with, in a very
‘Good stuff that,’ observed
Mr. Claypole, smacking his lips.
‘Dear!’ said Fagin.
’A man need be always emptying a till, or a
pocket, or a woman’s reticule, or a house, or
a mail-coach, or a bank, if he drinks it regularly.’
Mr. Claypole no sooner heard this
extract from his own remarks than he fell back in
his chair, and looked from the Jew to Charlotte with
a countenance of ashy paleness and excessive terror.
‘Don’t mind me, my dear,’
said Fagin, drawing his chair closer. ’Ha!
ha! it was lucky it was only me that heard you by chance.
It was very lucky it was only me.’
‘I didn’t take it,’
stammered Noah, no longer stretching out his legs
like an independent gentleman, but coiling them up
as well as he could under his chair; ’it was
all her doing; yer’ve got it now, Charlotte,
yer know yer have.’
‘No matter who’s got it,
or who did it, my dear,’ replied Fagin, glancing,
nevertheless, with a hawk’s eye at the girl and
the two bundles. ‘I’m in that way
myself, and I like you for it.’
‘In what way?’ asked Mr. Claypole, a little
‘In that way of business,’
rejoined Fagin; ’and so are the people of the
house. You’ve hit the right nail upon the
head, and are as safe here as you could be.
There is not a safer place in all this town than is
the Cripples; that is, when I like to make it so.
And I have taken a fancy to you and the young woman;
so I’ve said the word, and you may make your
Noah Claypole’s mind might have
been at ease after this assurance, but his body certainly
was not; for he shuffled and writhed about, into various
uncouth positions: eyeing his new friend meanwhile
with mingled fear and suspicion.
‘I’ll tell you more,’
said Fagin, after he had reassured the girl, by dint
of friendly nods and muttered encouragements.
’I have got a friend that I think can gratify
your darling wish, and put you in the right way, where
you can take whatever department of the business you
think will suit you best at first, and be taught all
‘Yer speak as if yer were in earnest,’
‘What advantage would it be
to me to be anything else?’ inquired Fagin,
shrugging his shoulders. ‘Here! Let
me have a word with you outside.’
‘There’s no occasion to
trouble ourselves to move,’ said Noah, getting
his legs by gradual degrees abroad again. ’She’ll
take the luggage upstairs the while. Charlotte,
see to them bundles.’
This mandate, which had been delivered
with great majesty, was obeyed without the slightest
demur; and Charlotte made the best of her way off
with the packages while Noah held the door open and
watched her out.
‘She’s kept tolerably
well under, ain’t she?’ he asked as he
resumed his seat: in the tone of a keeper who
had tamed some wild animal.
‘Quite perfect,’ rejoined
Fagin, clapping him on the shoulder. ’You’re
a genius, my dear.’
‘Why, I suppose if I wasn’t,
I shouldn’t be here,’ replied Noah.
’But, I say, she’ll be back if yer lose
‘Now, what do you think?’
said Fagin. ’If you was to like my friend,
could you do better than join him?’
‘Is he in a good way of business;
that’s where it is!’ responded Noah, winking
one of his little eyes.
’The top of the tree; employs
a power of hands; has the very best society in the
‘Regular town-maders?’ asked Mr. Claypole.
’Not a countryman among ’em;
and I don’t think he’d take you, even on
my recommendation, if he didn’t run rather short
of assistants just now,’ replied Fagin.
‘Should I have to hand over?’
said Noah, slapping his breeches-pocket.
‘It couldn’t possibly
be done without,’ replied Fagin, in a most decided
‘Twenty pound, though it’s
a lot of money!’
‘Not when it’s in a note
you can’t get rid of,’ retorted Fagin.
’Number and date taken, I suppose? Payment
stopped at the Bank? Ah! It’s not
worth much to him. It’ll have to go abroad,
and he couldn’t sell it for a great deal in
‘When could I see him?’ asked Noah doubtfully.
‘Um!’ said Noah. ‘What’s
’Live like a gentleman board
and lodging, pipes and spirits free half
of all you earn, and half of all the young woman earns,’
replied Mr. Fagin.
Whether Noah Claypole, whose rapacity
was none of the least comprehensive, would have acceded
even to these glowing terms, had he been a perfectly
free agent, is very doubtful; but as he recollected
that, in the event of his refusal, it was in the power
of his new acquaintance to give him up to justice
immediately (and more unlikely things had come to
pass), he gradually relented, and said he thought
that would suit him.
‘But, yer see,’ observed
Noah, ’as she will be able to do a good deal,
I should like to take something very light.’
‘A little fancy work?’ suggested Fagin.
‘Ah! something of that sort,’
replied Noah. ’What do you think would
suit me now? Something not too trying for the
strength, and not very dangerous, you know.
That’s the sort of thing!’
’I heard you talk of something
in the spy way upon the others, my dear,’ said
Fagin. ’My friend wants somebody who would
do that well, very much.’
’Why, I did mention that, and
I shouldn’t mind turning my hand to it sometimes,’
rejoined Mr. Claypole slowly; ’but it wouldn’t
pay by itself, you know.’
‘That’s true!’ observed
the Jew, ruminating or pretending to ruminate.
‘No, it might not.’
‘What do you think, then?’
asked Noah, anxiously regarding him. ’Something
in the sneaking way, where it was pretty sure work,
and not much more risk than being at home.’
‘What do you think of the old
ladies?’ asked Fagin. ’There’s
a good deal of money made in snatching their bags
and parcels, and running round the corner.’
‘Don’t they holler out
a good deal, and scratch sometimes?’ asked Noah,
shaking his head. ’I don’t think
that would answer my purpose. Ain’t there
any other line open?’
‘Stop!’ said Fagin, laying
his hand on Noah’s knee. ‘The kinchin
‘What’s that?’ demanded Mr. Claypole.
‘The kinchins, my dear,’
said Fagin, ’is the young children that’s
sent on errands by their mothers, with sixpences and
shillings; and the lay is just to take their money
away they’ve always got it ready in
their hands, then knock ’em into
the kennel, and walk off very slow, as if there were
nothing else the matter but a child fallen down and
hurt itself. Ha! ha! ha!’
‘Ha! ha!’ roared Mr. Claypole,
kicking up his legs in an ecstasy. ‘Lord,
that’s the very thing!’
‘To be sure it is,’ replied
Fagin; ’and you can have a few good beats chalked
out in Camden Town, and Battle Bridge, and neighborhoods
like that, where they’re always going errands;
and you can upset as many kinchins as you want, any
hour in the day. Ha! ha! ha!’
With this, Fagin poked Mr. Claypole
in the side, and they joined in a burst of laughter
both long and loud.
‘Well, that’s all right!’
said Noah, when he had recovered himself, and Charlotte
had returned. ‘What time to-morrow shall
‘Will ten do?’ asked Fagin,
adding, as Mr. Claypole nodded assent, ‘What
name shall I tell my good friend.’
‘Mr. Bolter,’ replied
Noah, who had prepared himself for such emergency.
‘Mr. Morris Bolter. This is Mrs. Bolter.’
‘Mrs. Bolter’s humble
servant,’ said Fagin, bowing with grotesque
politeness. ‘I hope I shall know her better
‘Do you hear the gentleman,
Charlotte?’ thundered Mr. Claypole.
‘Yes, Noah, dear!’ replied
Mrs. Bolter, extending her hand.
‘She calls me Noah, as a sort
of fond way of talking,’ said Mr. Morris Bolter,
late Claypole, turning to Fagin. ‘You understand?’
‘Oh yes, I understand perfectly,’
replied Fagin, telling the truth for once. ‘Good-night!
With many adieus and good wishes,
Mr. Fagin went his way. Noah Claypole, bespeaking
his good lady’s attention, proceeded to enlighten
her relative to the arrangement he had made, with all
that haughtiness and air of superiority, becoming,
not only a member of the sterner sex, but a gentleman
who appreciated the dignity of a special appointment
on the kinchin lay, in London and its vicinity.