But struggling with these better feelings was pride,--the vice ofthe lowest and
most debased creatures no less than of the highand self-assured. The miserable companion
of thieves andruffians, the fallen outcast of low haunts, the associate of thescourings
of the jails and hulks, living within the shadow of thegallows itself,--even this
degraded being felt too proud tobetray a feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which
she thought aweakness, but which alone connected her with that humanity, ofwhich
her wasting life had obliterated so many, many traces whena very child.
She raised her eyes sufficiently to observe that the figure whichpresented itself
was that of a slight and beautiful girl; then,bending them on the ground, she tossed
her head with affectedcarelessness as she said:
'It's a hard matter to get to see you, lady. If I had takenoffence, and gone
away, as many would have done, you'd have beensorry for it one day, and not without
'I am very sorry if any one has behaved harshly to you,' repliedRose. 'Do not
think of that. Tell me why you wished to see me. I am the person you inquired for.'
The kind tone of this answer, the sweet voice, the gentle manner,the absence
of any accent of haughtiness or displeasure, took thegirl completely by surprise,
and she burst into tears.
'Oh, lady, lady!' she said, clasping her hands passionatelybefore her face, 'if
there was more like you, there would befewer like me,--there would--there would!'
'Sit down,' said Rose, earnestly. 'If you are in poverty oraffliction I shall
be truly glad to relieve you if I can,--Ishall indeed. Sit down.'
'Let me stand, lady,' said the girl, still weeping, 'and do notspeak to me so
kindly till you know me better. It is growinglate. Is--is--that door shut?'
'Yes,' said Rose, recoiling a few steps, as if to be nearerassistance in case
she should require it. 'Why?'
'Because,' said the girl, 'I am about to put my life and thelives of others in
your hands. I am the girl that dragged littleOliver back to old Fagin's on the night
he went out from thehouse in Pentonville.'
'You!' said Rose Maylie.
'I, lady!' replied the girl. 'I am the infamous creature youhave heard of, that
lives among the thieves, and that never fromthe first moment I can recollect my
eyes and senses opening onLondon streets have known any better life, or kinder words
thanthey have given me, so help me God! Do not mind shrinking openlyfrom me, lady.
I am younger than you would think, to look at me,but I am well used to it. The poorest
women fall back, as I makemy way along the crowded pavement.'
'What dreadful things are these!' said Rose, involuntarilyfalling from her strange
'Thank Heaven upon your knees, dear lady,' cried the girl, 'thatyou had friends
to care for and keep you in your childhood, andthat you were never in the midst
of cold and hunger, and riot anddrunkenness, and--and--something worse than all--as
I have beenfrom my cradle. I may use the word, for the alley and the gutterwere
mine, as they will be my deathbed.'
'I pity you!' said Rose, in a broken voice. 'It wrings my heartto hear you!'
'Heaven bless you for your goodness!' rejoined the girl. 'If youknew what I am
sometimes, you would pity me, indeed. But I havestolen away from those who would
surely murder me, if they knew Ihad been here, to tell you what I have overheard.
Do you know aman named Monks?'
'No,' said Rose.
'He knows you,' replied the girl; 'and knew you were here, for itwas by hearing
him tell the place that I found you out.'
'I never heard the name,' said Rose.
'Then he goes by some other amongst us,' rejoined the girl,'which I more than
thought before. Some time ago, and soon afterOliver was put into your house on the
night of the robbery,I--suspecting this man--listened to a conversation held betweenhim
and Fagin in the dark. I found out, from what I heard, thatMonks--the man I asked
you about, you know--'
'Yes,' said Rose, 'I understand.'
'--That Monks,' pursued the girl, 'had seen him accidently withtwo of our boys
on the day we first lost him, and had known himdirectly to be the same child that
he was watching for, though Icouldn't make out why. A bargain was struck with Fagin,
that ifOliver was got back he should have a certain sum; and he was tohave more
for making him a thief, which this Monks wanted forsome purpose of his own.
'For what purpose?' asked Rose.
'He caught sight of my shadow on the wall as I listened, in thehope of finding
out,' said the girl; 'and there are not manypeople besides me that could have got
out of their way in time toescape discovery. But I did; and I saw him no more till
'And what occurred then?'
'I'll tell you, lady. Last night he came again. Again they wentupstairs, and
I, wrapping myself up so that my shadow would notbetray me, again listened at the
door. The first words I heardMonks say were these: "So the only proofs of the boy's
identitylie at the bottom of the river, and the old hag that receivedthem from the
mother is rotting in her coffin." They laughed,and talked of his success in doing
this; and Monks, talking onabout the boy, and getting very wild, said that though
he had gotthe young devil's money safely know, he'd rather have had it theother
way; for, what a game it would have been to have broughtdown the boast of the father's
will, by driving him through everyjail in town, and then hauling him up for some
capital felonywhich Fagin could easily manage, after having made a good profitof
'What is all this!' said Rose.
'The truth, lady, though it comes from my lips,' replied thegirl. 'Then, he said,
with oaths common enough in my ears, butstrange to yours, that if he could gratify
his hatred by takingthe boy's life without bringing his own neck in danger, he would;but,
as he couldn't, he'd be upon the watch to meet him at everyturn in life; and if
he took advantage of his birth and history,he might harm him yet. "In short, Fagin,"
he says, "Jew as youare, you never laid such snares as I'll contrive for my youngbrother,
'His brother!' exclaimed Rose.
'Those were his words,' said Nancy, glancing uneasily round, asshe had scarcely
ceased to do, since she began to speak, for avision of Sikes haunted her perpetually.
'And more. When hespoke of you and the other lady, and said it seemed contrived
byHeaven, or the devil, against him, that Oliver should come intoyour hands, he
laughed, and said there was some comfort in thattoo, for how many thousands and
hundreds of thousands of poundswould you not give, if you had them, to know who
your two-leggedspaniel was.'
'You do not mean,' said Rose, turning very pale, 'to tell me thatthis was said
'He spoke in hard and angry earnest, if a man ever did,' repliedthe girl, shaking
her head. 'He is an earnest man when hishatred is up. I know many who do worse things;
but I'd ratherlisten to them all a dozen times, than to that Monks once. It isgrowing
late, and I have to reach home without suspicion ofhaving been on such an errand
as this. I must get back quickly.'
'But what can I do?' said Rose. 'To what use can I turn thiscommunication without
you? Back! Why do you wish to return tocompanions you paint in such terrible colors?
If you repeat thisinformation to a gentleman whom I can summon in an instant fromthe
next room, you can be consigned to some place of safetywithout half an hour's delay.'
'I wish to go back,' said the girl. 'I must go back,because--how can I tell such
things to an innocent lady likeyou?--because among the men I have told you of, there
is one: the most desperate among them all; that I can't leave: no, noteven to be
saved from the life I am leading now.'
'Your having interfered in this dear boy's behalf before,' saidRose; 'your coming
here, at so great a risk, to tell me what youhave heard; your manner, which convinces
me of the truth of whatyou say; your evident contrition, and sense of shame; all
lead meto believe that you might yet be reclaimed. Oh!' said theearnest girl, folding
her hands as the tears coursed down herface, 'do not turn a deaf ear to the entreaties
of one of yourown sex; the first--the first, I do believe, who ever appealed toyou
in the voice of pity and compassion. Do hear my words, andlet me save you yet, for
'Lady,' cried the girl, sinking on her knees, 'dear, sweet, angellady, you ARE
the first that ever blessed me with such words asthese, and if I had heard them
years ago, they might have turnedme from a life of sin and sorrow; but it is too
late, it is toolate!'
'It is never too late,' said Rose, 'for penitence and atonement.'
'It is,' cried the girl, writhing in agony of her mind; 'I cannotleave him now!
I could not be his death.'
'Why should you be?' asked Rose.
'Nothing could save him,' cried the girl. 'If I told others whatI have told you,
and led to their being taken, he would be sureto die. He is the boldest, and has
been so cruel!'
'Is it possible,' cried Rose, 'that for such a man as this, youcan resign every
future hope, and the certainty of immediaterescue? It is madness.'
'I don't know what it is,' answered the girl; 'I only know thatit is so, and
not with me alone, but with hundreds of others asbad and wretched as myself. I must
go back. Whether it is God'swrath for the wrong I have done, I do not know; but
I am drawnback to him through every suffering and ill usage; and I shouldbe, I believe,
if I knew that I was to die by his hand at last.'
'What am I to do?' said Rose. 'I should not let you depart fromme thus.'
'You should, lady, and I know you will,' rejoined the girl,rising. 'You will
not stop my going because I have trusted inyour goodness, and forced no promise
from you, as I might havedone.'
'Of what use, then, is the communication you have made?' saidRose. 'This mystery
must be investigated, or how will itsdisclosure to me, benefit Oliver, whom you
are anxious to serve?'
'You must have some kind gentleman about you that will hear it asa secret, and
advise you what to do,' rejoined the girl.
'But where can I find you again when it is necessary?' askedRose. 'I do not seek
to know where these dreadful people live,but where will you be walking or passing
at any settled periodfrom this time?'
'Will you promise me that you will have my secret strictly kept,and come alone,
or with the only other person that knows it; andthat I shall not be watched or followed?'
asked the girl.
'I promise you solemnly,' answered Rose.
'Every Sunday night, from eleven until the clock strikes twelve,'said the girl
without hesitation, 'I will walk on London Bridgeif I am alive.'
'Stay another moment,' interposed Rose, as the girl movedhurriedly towards the
door. 'Think once again on your owncondition, and the opportunity you have of escaping
from it. Youhave a claim on me: not only as the voluntary bearer of thisintelligence,
but as a woman lost almost beyond redemption. Willyou return to this gang of robbers,
and to this man, when a wordcan save you? What fascination is it that can take you
back, andmake you cling to wickedness and misery? Oh! is there no chordin your heart
that I can touch! Is there nothing left, to whichI can appeal against this terrible
'When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are,'replied the girl steadily,
'give away your hearts, love willcarry you all lengths--even such as you, who have
home, friends,other admirers, everything, to fill them. When such as I, whohave
no certain roof but the coffinlid, and no friend in sicknessor death but the hospital
nurse, set our rotten hearts on anyman, and let him fill the place that has been
a blank through allour wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady--pityus
for having only one feeling of the woman left, and for havingthat turned, by a heavy
judgment, from a comfort and a pride,into a new means of violence and suffering.'
'You will,' said Rose, after a pause, 'take some money from me,which may enable
you to live without dishonesty--at all eventsuntil we meet again?'
'Not a penny,' replied the girl, waving her hand.
'Do not close your heart against all my efforts to help you,'said Rose, stepping
gently forward. 'I wish to serve youindeed.'
'You would serve me best, lady,' replied the girl, wringing herhands, 'if you
could take my life at once; for I have felt moregrief to think of what I am, to-night,
than I ever did before,and it would be something not to die in the hell in which
I havelived. God bless you, sweet lady, and send as much happiness onyour head as
I have brought shame on mine!'
Thus speaking, and sobbing aloud, the unhappy creature turnedaway; while Rose
Maylie, overpowered by this extraordinaryinterview, which had more the semblance
of a rapid dream than anactual occurance, sank into a chair, and endeavoured to
collecther wandering thoughts.
CONTAINING FRESH DISCOVERIES, AND SHOWING THAT SUPRISES, LIKEMISFORTUNES, SELDOM
Her situation was, indeed, one of no common trial and difficulty.
While she felt the most eager and burning desire to penetrate themystery in which
Oliver's history was enveloped, she could notbut hold sacred the confidence which
the miserable woman withwhom she had just conversed, had reposed in her, as a young
andguileless girl. Her words and manner had touched Rose Maylie'sheart; and, mingled
with her love for her young charge, andscarcely less intense in its truth and fervour,
was her fond wishto win the outcast back to repentance and hope.