Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 26
The old man had gained the street corner, before he began to recover the effect of Toby
Crackit's intelligence. He had relaxed nothing of his unusual speed; but was still pressing
onward, in the same wild and disordered manner, when the sudden dashing past of a
carriage: and a boisterous cry from the foot passengers, who saw his danger: drove him
back upon the pavement. Avoiding, as much as was possible, all the main streets, and
skulking only through the by-ways and alleys, he at length emerged on Snow Hill. Here
he walked even faster than before; nor did he linger until he had again turned into a court;
when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper element, he fell into his usual
shuffling pace, and seemed to breathe more freely.
Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens, upon the right hand
as you come out of the City, a narrow and dismal alley, leading to Saffron Hill. In its
filthy shops are exposed for sale huge bunches of second-hand silk handkerchiefs, of all
sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders who purchase them from pick-pockets.
Hundreds of these handkerchiefs hang dangling from pegs outside the windows or
flaunting from the door-posts; and the shelves, within, are piled with them. Confined as
the limits of Field Lane are, it has its barber, its coffee-shop, its beer-shop, and its fried-
fish warehouse. It is a commercial colony of itself: the emporium of petty larceny: visited
at early morning, and setting-in of dusk, by silent merchants, who traffic in dark back-
parlours, and who go as strangely as they come. Here, the clothesman, the shoe-vamper,
and the rag-merchant, display their goods, as sign-boards to the petty thief; here, stores of
old iron and bones, and heaps of mildewy fragments of woollen-stuff and linen, rust and
rot in the grimy cellars.
It was into this place that the Jew turned. He was well known to the sallow denizens of
the lane; for such of them as were on the look-out to buy or sell, nodded, familiarly, as he
passed along. He replied to their salutations in the same way; but bestowed no closer
recognition until he reached the further end of the alley; when he stopped, to address a
salesman of small stature, who had squeezed as much of his person into a child's chair as
the chair would hold, and was smoking a pipe at his warehouse door.
'Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalymy!' said this respectable trader,
in acknowledgment of the Jew's inquiry after his health.
'The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,' said Fagin, elevating his eyebrows, and
crossing his hands upon his shoulders.
'Well, I've heerd that complaint of it, once or twice before,' replied the trader; 'but it soon
cools down again; don't you find it so?'