In which a mysterious character appears upon the scene; and many things, inseparable from this history, are done and performed.
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 possible, all the main streets, and skulking only through the byways 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, there 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 secondhand silk handkerchiefs, of all sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders who purchase them from pickpockets. 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 hoptalmy! 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?
Fagin nodded in the affirmative. Pointing in the direction of Saffron Hill, he inquired whether any one was up yonder to-night.
At the Cripples? inquired the man.
The Jew nodded.
Let me see, pursued the merchant, reflecting. Yes, there's some half-dozen of 'em gone in, that I knows. I don't think your friend's there.
Sikes is not, I suppose? inquired the Jew, with a disappointed countenance.
Non istwentus, as the lawyers say, replied the little man, shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly. Have you got anything in my line to-night?
Nothing to-night, said the Jew, turning away.
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