At the end of Oliver Twist, Fagin is in the condemned cell, but his execution is not described. In this sequel, he escaped to the Indies and has returned to England years after, a rich man. . .
In this prologue to the book, Fagin sets out his plans.
Fagin Does Not Try to Explain His Miraculous Resurrection
– and Predicts His Inevitable Death
The question you are asking, my dears, is did I escape the rope, and if so, how did this miracle come about?
Well as to the first, my dears, ain’t I here before you, large as life and twice as natural, as my old friend and colleague the Artful Dodger used to have it, he that was awaiting me at the gates of Newgate with a suitable disguise to spirit me off to the Indies for a new life, that started in conditions worse than slavery and ended up with me, a prosperous merchant, back in the capital city, breathing in the noxious fumes of successful industry, after years of labouring in God’s fresh air. And didn’t it begin with me toiling under a tropic sun, sweating like the sons of Shem, and, today, me with one of those same blackfellers my constant companion, wafting cool air upon my old face every time I feel the sweat of honest toil dewing my brow.
How are the mighty fallen, it is written, but by the grace of He who sees all, the fallen may be lifted up also, and their last state being better than their first, like Job of old.
You see before you, I hope, an older and a wiser man, my dears, and richer, too, come back to tie up all the loose ends left in the old tale, which had me waiting behind bars, waiting for a meagre last meal before travelling in a tumbrel to the appointed place of my execution.
But still you ask, how did I escape the noose? Indeed I ask it too, for that is the purpose of my return to the place of my rise and fall, to seek out those who caused my downfall, if such be still living, as well as whoever opened up the prison gates, as it’s said Paul and Silas were divinely favoured in your Christian scriptures, for both evil and good shall receive their just reward, on this earth as well as in the next. Though I must confess that I be of the Saducee persuasion, who hold that this life be all there is, and the end be of eternal darkness.
You observe, no doubt my dears, that my years in exile have lent a philosophical cast to my thinking. But then in the bad old times, when the world would have cast its stones upon me, for the “crime” of befriending little beggar lads and training them up to regain a small smidgeon of what should have been rightly theirs, if this had been truly a Christian country – for while I deny the blasphemous legend of his divine conception, as must all my race, I do affirm that the world would indeed be a better place if the world were governed by his precepts, starting with that hanging judge who placed a black rag upon his head to pronounce sentence of death upon an old Jew who had sought only to do good to those who lay alongside of me in the gutter.
But still you ask, with the importunity of those who have not acquired the patience of we who are as full of years as I, how comes it that I escaped that dread fate?
Well, suffice it to say that jailers are notoriously ill-paid, and someone – I may not say who, at this stage, my dears, for indeed I know not his or her name, though I suspect young Nolly may have had a hand in it – someone unknown as yet to me, my dears, produced the largesse that opened wide those prison gates, and prevailed upon the Dodger to come out of hiding and spirit me away to where a vessel lay at anchor, ready to set sail for the Indies on the next tide, taking me to what I hoped would be a better life in the New World, but which turned out, at the outset at least, to be much, much worse than anything I had experienced heretofore, saving only that dread moment when sentence was pronounced upon me, and I truly believed that all was lost.
For a while in the Indies I was bound in chains made of money, welded together with greed, and ministering in my bondage to the sweet tooths of ladies at their têtes-à-têtes, and their menfolk doing their deals in the coffee houses of the city, labouring as I did for years in the sugar plantations.
How I rose from being less than a slave, to becoming, first, an overseer, then as kinder treatment of my black brothers in bondage was seen to have increased the crops sevenfold, eventually to take command of all my master’s affairs, ultimately to take his place when he died, leaving no issue (his childless bride having died in stillbirth), myself being the only named beneficiary in his will, all that is a tale you must needs possess yourself in patience to hear in God’s good time, my dears, for it is not my main purpose here with you today, which is to see that justice be done, before I be taken into the great Darkness which awaits us all.
For know you that there has grown a canker in my belly which defeats all the brilliance of medical science, and I know that my time be not long. It is possible that there may be some medical genius at one of your new hospitals with the genius to excise the malign growth and grant me even more fullness of days, but such is not my main purpose.
Revenge, sweeter than the cane which my calloused hands learned to hate with every fibre of my being, is certainly a consideration. But reward, for those whose beneficence brought me out of jail, is the major part of it.
So, first, I must seek out young Nolly, to see if the name of Oliver Twist the man be known upon ‘Change, and if the times have smiled or frowned upon him, with good fortune or bad.
But before I set off on that quest, there’s one last requirement I have for you, my dears, and that most essential to my purpose. For there is one abroad in the land who means me ill, and him a belted earl, dressed in scarlet and ermine and not the arrowed garb of a transported convict, which would be his apparel if justice were truly done.
He thinks Fagin’s dead, for he sailed to the Indies on the eve of my supposed execution, and by the time we met in the governor’s mansion so many years had passed that he never recognised me. But I knew him for the devil he was and is, and I heard him once curse the fate that denied him the pleasure of seeing me swing, me being dead and laid in the potter’s field, as he thought.
So Fagin is dead, my dears, dead long since. The one you see before you, dressed in silks rather than the ragged gabardine you last saw me in, is the prosperous Mr Cohen, a Jewish trader from the Indies, master of the sugar trade.
And this middle-aged gent you see along of me you might think once went by the sobriquet of the Artful Dodger, but you’d be wrong, my dears. It’s true I sometimes calls him Dodge, when we’re closeted at home, remembering old times. But that’s an old friend’s privilege.
To the world he now goes by his given moniker, so he’s plain Jack Dawkins from daybreak to sunset. What the doxies call him outside the waking hours is not for polite company to enquire, still less to know.
- And so, as honest Abe Cohen and his partner, Jack, sail into Tilbury Dock and must find themselves lodgings, it’s time for our tale to begin.