‚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 I’ll idquire.‘
‚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 The landlord of the house had not withdrawn his eye from this place of espial for five minutes, and Barney had only just returned from making the communication above related, when Fagin, in the course of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 whisper.
‚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 great interest.
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 after it.‘
‚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,‘ said Charlotte.
‚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 it ourselves.‘
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 him.
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 Barney.
‚A pleasant night, sir, but cool for the time of year,‘ said Fagin, rubbing his hands. ‚From the country, I see, sir?‘