Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 43

Wherein is shown how the Artful Dodger got into trouble

‘And so it was you that was your own friend, was it?’ asked Mr. Claypole, otherwise Bolter, when, by virtue of the compact entered into between them, he had removed next day to Fagin’s house. ‘‘Cod, I thought as much last night!’

‘Every man’s his own friend, my dear,’ replied Fagin, with his most insinuating grin. ‘He hasn’t as good a one as himself anywhere.’

‘Except sometimes,’ replied Morris Bolter, assuming the air of a man of the world. ‘Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own, yer know.’

‘Don’t believe that,’ said Fagin. ‘When a man’s his own enemy, it’s only because he’s too much his own friend; not because he’s careful for everybody but himself. Pooh! pooh! There ain’t such a thing in nature.’

‘There oughn’t to be, if there is,’ replied Mr. Bolter.

‘That stands to reason. Some conjurers say that number three is the magic number, and some say number seven. It’s neither, my friend, neither. It’s number one.

‘Ha! ha!’ cried Mr. Bolter. ‘Number one for ever.’

‘In a little community like ours, my dear,’ said Fagin, who felt it necessary to qualify this position, ‘we have a general number one, without considering me too as the same, and all the other young people.’

‘Oh, the devil!’ exclaimed Mr. Bolter.

‘You see,’ pursued Fagin, affecting to disregard this interruption, ‘we are so mixed up together, and identified in our interests, that it must be so. For instance, it’s your object to take care of number one — meaning yourself.’

‘Certainly,’ replied Mr. Bolter. ‘Yer about right there.’

‘Well! You can’t take care of yourself, number one, without taking care of me, number one.’

‘Number two, you mean,’ said Mr. Bolter, who was largely endowed with the quality of selfishness.

‘No, I don’t!’ retorted Fagin. ‘I’m of the same importance to you, as you are to yourself.’

‘I say,’ interrupted Mr. Bolter, ‘yer a very nice man, and I’m very fond of yer; but we ain’t quite so thick together, as all that comes to.’

‘Only think,’ said Fagin, shrugging his shoulders, and stretching out his hands; ‘only consider. You’ve done what’s a very pretty thing, and what I love you for doing; but what at the same time would put the cravat round your throat, that’s so very easily tied and so very difficult to unloose — in plain English, the halter!’

Mr. Bolter put his hand to his neckerchief, as if he felt it inconveniently tight; and murmured an assent, qualified in tone but not in substance.

‘The gallows,’ continued Fagin, ‘the gallows, my dear, is an ugly finger-post, which points out a very short and sharp turning that has stopped many a bold fellow’s career on the broad highway. To keep in the easy road, and keep it at a distance, is object number one with you.’

‘Of course it is,’ replied Mr. Bolter. ‘What do yer talk about such things for?’

‘Only to show you my meaning clearly,’ said the Jew, raising his eyebrows. ‘To be able to do that, you depend upon me. To keep my little business all snug, I depend upon you. The first is your number one, the second my number one. The more you value your number one, the more careful you must be of mine; so we come at last to what I told you at first — that a regard for number one holds us all together, and must do so, unless we would all go to pieces in company.’

‘That’s true,’ rejoined Mr. Bolter, thoughtfully. ‘Oh! yer a cunning old codger!’

Mr. Fagin saw, with delight, that this tribute to his powers was no mere compliment, but that he had really impressed his recruit with a sense of his wily genius, which it was most important that he should entertain in the outset of their acquaintance. To strengthen an impression so desirable and useful, he followed up the blow by acquainting him, in some detail, with the magnitude and extent of his operations; blending truth and fiction together, as best served his purpose; and bringing both to bear, with so much art, that Mr. Bolter’s respect visibly increased, and became tempered, at the same time, with a degree of wholesome fear, which it was highly desirable to awaken.

‘It’s this mutual trust we have in each other that consoles me under heavy losses,’ said Fagin. ‘My best hand was taken from me, yesterday morning.’

‘You don’t mean to say he died?’ cried Mr. Bolter.

‘No, no,’ replied Fagin, ‘not so bad as that. Not quite so bad.’

‘What, I suppose he was —’

‘Wanted,’ interposed Fagin. ‘Yes, he was wanted.’

‘Very particular?’ inquired Mr. Bolter.

‘No,’ replied Fagin, ‘not very. He was charged with attempting to pick a pocket, and they found a silver snuff-box on him — his own, my dear, his own, for he took snuff himself, and was very fond of it. They remanded him till to-day, for they thought they knew the owner. Ah! he was worth fifty boxes, and I’d give the price of as many to have him back. You should have known the Dodger, my dear; you should have known the Dodger.’

‘Well, but I shall know him, I hope; don’t yer think so?’ said Mr. Bolter.

‘I’m doubtful about it,’ replied Fagin, with a sigh. ‘If they don’t get any fresh evidence, it’ll only be a summary conviction, and we shall have him back again after six weeks or so; but, if they do, it’s a case of lagging. They know what a clever lad he is; he’ll be a lifer. They’ll make the Artful nothing less than a lifer.’

‘What do you mean by lagging and a lifer?’ demanded Mr. Bolter. ‘What’s the good of talking in that way to me; why don’t yer speak so as I can understand yer?’

Fagin was about to translate these mysterious expressions into the vulgar tongue; and, being interpreted, Mr. Bolter would have been informed that they represented that combination of words, ‘transportation for life,’ when the dialogue was cut short by the entry of Master Bates, with his hands in his breeches-pockets, and his face twisted into a look of semi-comical woe.

‘It’s all up, Fagin,’ said Charley, when he and his new companion had been made known to each other.

‘What do you mean?’

‘They’ve found the gentleman as owns the box; two or three more’s a coming to ‘dentify him; and the Artful’s booked for a passage out,’ replied Master Bates. ‘I must have a full suit of mourning, Fagin, and a hatband, to wisit him in, afore he sets out upon his travels. To think of Jack Dawkins — lummy Jack — the Dodger — the Artful Dodger — going abroad for a common twopenny-halfpenny sneeze-box! I never thought he’d a done it under a gold watch, chain, and seals, at the lowest. Oh, why didn’t he rob some rich old gentleman of all his walables, and go out as a gentleman, and not like a common prig, without no honour nor glory!’

With this expression of feeling for his unfortunate friend, Master Bates sat himself on the nearest chair with an aspect of chagrin and despondency.

‘What do you talk about his having neither honour nor glory for!’ exclaimed Fagin, darting an angry look at his pupil. ‘Wasn’t he always the top-sawyer among you all! Is there one of you that could touch him or come near him on any scent! Eh?’

‘Not one,’ replied Master Bates, in a voice rendered husky by regret; ‘not one.’

‘Then what do you talk of?’ replied Fagin angrily; ‘what are you blubbering for?’

‘‘Cause it isn’t on the rec-ord, is it?’ said Charley, chafed into perfect defiance of his venerable friend by the current of his regrets; ‘‘cause it can’t come out in the ‘dictment; ‘cause nobody will never know half of what he was. How will he stand in the Newgate Calendar? P’raps not be there at all. Oh, my eye, my eye, wot a blow it is!’

‘Ha! ha!’ cried Fagin, extending his right hand, and turning to Mr. Bolter in a fit of chuckling which shook him as though he had the palsy; ‘see what a pride they take in their profession, my dear. Ain’t it beautiful?’

Mr. Bolter nodded assent, and Fagin, after contemplating the grief of Charley Bates for some seconds with evident satisfaction, stepped up to that young gentleman and patted him on the shoulder.

‘Never mind, Charley,’ said Fagin soothingly; ‘it’ll come out, it’ll be sure to come out. They’ll all know what a clever fellow he was; he’ll show it himself, and not disgrace his old pals and teachers. Think how young he is too! What a distinction, Charley, to be lagged at his time of life!’

‘Well, it is a honour that is!’ said Charley, a little consoled.

‘He shall have all he wants,’ continued the Jew. ‘He shall be kept in the Stone Jug, Charley, like a gentleman. Like a gentleman! With his beer every day, and money in his pocket to pitch and toss with, if he can’t spend it.’

‘No, shall he though?’ cried Charley Bates.

‘Ay, that he shall,’ replied Fagin, ‘and we’ll have a big-wig, Charley: one that’s got the greatest gift of the gab: to carry on his defence; and he shall make a speech for himself too, if he likes; and we’ll read it all in the papers —“Artful Dodger — shrieks of laughter — here the court was convulsed”— eh, Charley, eh?’

‘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 inaminate object that frowned upon it.

Noah looked eagerly about him for the Dodger; but although there were several women who would have done very well for that distinguished character’s mother or sister, and more than one man who might be supposed to bear a strong resemblance to his father, nobody at all answering the description given him of Mr. Dawkins was to be seen. He waited in a state of much suspense and uncertainty until the women, being committed for trial, went flaunting out; and then was quickly relieved by the appearance of another prisoner who he felt at once could be no other than the object of his visit.

It was indeed Mr. Dawkins, who, shuffling into the office with the big coat sleeves tucked up as usual, his left hand in his pocket, and his hat in his right hand, preceded the jailer, with a rolling gait altogether indescribable, and, taking his place in the dock, requested in an audible voice to know what he was placed in that ‘ere disgraceful sitivation for.

‘Hold your tongue, will you?’ said the jailer.

‘I’m an Englishman, ain’t I?’ rejoined the Dodger. ‘Where are my priwileges?’

‘You’ll get your privileges soon enough,’ retorted the jailer, ‘and pepper with ’em.’

‘We’ll see wot the Secretary of State for the Home Affairs has got to say to the beaks, if I don’t,’ replied Mr. Dawkins. ‘Now then! Wot is this here business? I shall thank the madg’strates to dispose of this here little affair, and not to keep me while they read the paper, for I’ve got an appointment with a genelman in the City, and as I am a man of my word and wery punctual in business matters, he’ll go away if I ain’t there to my time, and then pr’aps ther won’t be an action for damage against them as kep me away. Oh no, certainly not!’

At this point, the Dodger, with a show of being very particular with a view to proceedings to be had thereafter, desired the jailer to communicate ‘the names of them two files as was on the bench.’ Which so tickled the spectators, that they laughed almost as heartily as Master Bates could have done if he had heard the request.

‘Silence there!’ cried the jailer.

‘What is this?’ inquired one of the magistrates.

‘A pick-pocketing case, your worship.’

‘Has the boy ever been here before?’

‘He ought to have been, a many times,’ replied the jailer. ‘He has been pretty well everywhere else. I know him well, your worship.’

‘Oh! you know me, do you?’ cried the Artful, making a note of the statement. ‘Wery good. That’s a case of deformation of character, any way.’

Here there was another laugh, and another cry of silence.

‘Now then, where are the witnesses?’ said the clerk.

‘Ah! that’s right,’ added the Dodger. ‘Where are they? I should like to see ’em.’

This wish was immediately gratified, for a policeman stepped forward who had seen the prisoner attempt the pocket of an unknown gentleman in a crowd, and indeed take a handkerchief therefrom, which, being a very old one, he deliberately put back again, after trying in on his own countenance. For this reason, he took the Dodger into custody as soon as he could get near him, and the said Dodger, being searched, had upon his person a silver snuff-box, with the owner’s name engraved upon the lid. This gentleman had been discovered on reference to the Court Guide, and being then and there present, swore that the snuff-box was his, and that he had missed it on the previous day, the moment he had disengaged himself from the crowd before referred to. He had also remarked a young gentleman in the throng, particularly active in making his way about, and that young gentleman was the prisoner before him.

‘Have you anything to ask this witness, boy?’ said the magistrate.

‘I wouldn’t abase myself by descending to hold no conversation with him’ replied the Dodger.

‘Have you anything to say at all?’

‘Do you hear his worship ask if you’ve anything to say?’ inquired the jailer, nudging the silent Dodger with his elbow.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said the Dodger, looking up with an air of abstraction. ‘Did you redress yourself to me, my man?’

‘I never see such an out-and-out young wagabond, your worship,’ observed the officer with a grin. ‘Do you mean to say anything, you young shaver?’

‘No,’ replied the Dodger, ‘not here, for this ain’t the shop for justice: besides which, my attorney is a-breakfasting this morning with the Wice President of the House of Commons; but I shall have something to say elsewhere, and so will he, and so will a wery numerous and ‘spectable circle of acquaintance as’ll make them beaks wish they’d never been born, or that they’d got their footmen to hang ’em up to their own hat-pegs, afore they let ’em come out this morning to try it on upon me. I’ll —’

‘There! He’s fully committed!’ interposed the clerk. ‘Take him away.’

‘Come on,’ said the jailer.

‘Oh ah! I’ll come on,’ replied the Dodger, brushing his hat with the palm of his hand. ‘Ah! (to the Bench) it’s no use your looking frightened; I won’t show you no mercy, not a ha’porth of it. YOU’LL pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn’t be you for something! I wouldn’t go free, now, if you was to fall down on your knees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison! Take me away!’

With these last words, the Dodger suffered himself to be led off by the collar; threatening, till he got into the yard, to make a parliamentary business of it; and then grinning in the officer’s face, with great glee and self-approval.

Having seen him locked up by himself in a little cell, Noah made the best of his way back to where he had left Master Bates. After waiting here some time, he was joined by that young gentleman, who had prudently abstained from showing himself until he had looked carefully abroad from a snug retreat, and ascertained that his new friend had not been followed by any impertinent person.

The two hastened back together, to bear to Mr. Fagin the animating news that the Dodger was doing full justice to his bringing-up, and establishing for himself a glorious reputation.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30