‚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 inanimate 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.