A tale for Halloween.
Mr Dickens in his telling of the story of Oliver Twist , a pseudonym Mr Dickens has given to the actual child in his usual clumsy way, failed to inform the public of the nature of the life Oliver was leading, nor of his own (Dickens’s) part in it. Whatever the situation of his mother Oliver (Oswald) was left at the door of the workhouse. He was raised there by the orderlies of that institution who in turn prepared him for life with Fagin. He was later sold to Fagin who trained him to be a successful rent boy, as we would call it today. Fagin was not a bad man, don’ t misunderstand me. He was doing what he could to help waifs and strays make a way in the world with the only thing they possessed their bodies.
Dickens did do his best for Twist (because he turned tricks on the corners of London streets, outside the coffee houses, haunts of monied gentlemen) by finding him a patron in the man Dickens calls Mr Brownlow, another unsubtle hint as to the relationship between the boy and the old man.
Sykes, who went on to murder Brownlow, was a thug and most unpleasant character. He wore hobnail boots which he used to announce his presence by crashing them down wherever he went. Little more than a boy himself he had a cruel streak even by those cruel times. It maybe, that was why Dickens chose to call him Sykes, the man was a psychopath, though whether that term existed at the time of Dickens’ writing is unknown to me as I write these memoirs here for you.
When Oliver ran away to Mr Brownlow, for the education he so sorely missed, Fagin told Sykes to get him back, which he did with the help of Nancy and Charlie the Artful Dodger. Oliver was fretful so Bill, Hobnail Bill, as he was known in Billingsgate, laid a plan to stop the whinings of the kid -now grown to his teens. Planning a break in to Brownlow’s property Hobnail had the intention to murder Brownlow from the first and so stop the distraction from a profitable business. Pushing Oliver through the window he purposefully made a lot of noise to awaken the old man and bring him to the stairs where Hobnail shot him.
Maybe he hadn’t reckoned on Twist’s response or maybe he didn’t care either way. As it was Twist went to Dickens, himself an ear for the Police on the streets of London into the underworld scene there. Dickens had found Twist a ready informer on the comings and goings, a naive child at best. It was for this reason he had sought to place him in the security of Brownlow’s household, though, as we have seen that plan backfired. Twist was deeply hurt at the death of his friend and complained to Dickens, sitting in a tea shop in the company of Artful, about the whole episode. Charlie was cross with Oliver for blurting out the story in that unguarded manner and told him so in no uncertain terms. He told Fagin the problem. In his turn Fagin told Oliver that Bill would be wild with him when he got back and the best thing to do was to make his escape down in the country as soon as he could.
Fagin gave Oliver a ring, bloodstone he called it all red and green, and told him to show it to a certain person who would know what to do with him and that he would be handed on one to another until he was on the outskirts of London when he would be given to a local lad working as a sexton in Blackheath. There he would arrange for him to find his freedom down in the country.
A week of terror followed Oliver as he was handed from one to another always carefully secreted ‘lest Bill should hear of it’. He ran in terror followed by the spectre of Bill Sykes chasing after him. Finally he was handed on to the sexton who fed him some onion soup and told him to hide in the attic as he had some guests coming that afternoon and it would be best if he was not around. Lying in the loft he heard the voices downstairs and for a moment his heart was seized with fear. Was that Sykes’s voice he could hear. But then he calmed and decided it was nothing more than his own fear causing him to invent things.
Night came and the sexton called to him that it was time to make their way up to the graveyard where they would meet his cousin who would see him safe down in the country.
It was spooky as they entered the graveyard. The sexton re-assured him no need to be afraid of the dead. This was where he worked everyday. There was a grave up in the corner he had been digging that day, that was where they would meet his cousin. As they drew closer a voice growled at him ‘Hallo Oliver’. He froze, that was Bill Sykes surely. ‘You didn’t know he was my cousin did you?’ said the sexton as he held him firmly by the arm. Someone seized his other arm and they marched him to his doom.
Sykes had a long hard thumb nail he used to peel chestnuts. Grabbing Oliver by the balls he twisted hard and told him how sorry he was that things had come to this. As a market barrow-man he was enormously strong. The strength fled from Oliver’s body as he screamed in pain. Sykes leant him down across a gravestone and stamped on his knees. ‘Now you wont be able to run away from me, you sneak.’ He said.
He continued to torture the boy, using the hook he carried to scrape across his face and back. He stamped on his head till the skull burst and threw him down in the pit the sexton had dug. ‘Now you’re safe down in the country’, he laughed, as they covered the crushed body with soil. A burial the next day would seal that mystery once and for all.
He had torn out Oliver’s tongue ‘as a reminder’ he said, as he hung it off the pillar in the centre of Fagin’s hall, ‘to stop other wagging tongues’. Fagin was sorely oppressed by the whole affair. He too felt that Bill had gone too far in killing the old man, but now this excess of violence filled Fagin’s mind. Within days Bill was found dead, some said he had hanged himself. Others felt good riddance to a bad apple who had been upsetting the criminal world for too long. They were only too glad to see the back of him. Some said he was Herod, killing the babies, others that he was the one who invented the switch in the pipes that turned water into gas and killed the Jews a century later. Others just call him deluded as he makes his way through the world and Time.