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Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 55)


'She will be persuaded now,' cried the young lady. 'Shehesitates, I am sure.'

'I fear not, my dear,' said the gentleman.

'No sir, I do not,' replied the girl, after a short struggle. 'Iam chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but Icannot leave it. I must have gone too far to turn back,--and yetI don't know, for if you had spoken to me so, some time ago, Ishould have laughed it off. But,' she said, looking hastilyround, 'this fear comes over me again. I must go home.'

'Home!' repeated the young lady, with great stress upon the word.

'Home, lady,' rejoined the girl. 'To such a home as I haveraised for myself with the work of my whole life. Let us part. I shall be watched or seen. Go! Go! If I have done you anyservice all I ask is, that you leave me, and let me go my wayalone.'

'It is useless,' said the gentleman, with a sigh. 'We compromiseher safety, perhaps, by staying here. We may have detained herlonger than she expected already.'

'Yes, yes,' urged the girl. 'You have.'

'What,' cried the young lady. 'can be the end of this poorcreature's life!'

'What!' repeated the girl. 'Look before you, lady. Look at thatdark water. How many times do you read of such as I who springinto the tide, and leave no living thing, to care for, or bewailthem. It may be years hence, or it may be only months, but Ishall come to that at last.'

'Do not speak thus, pray,' returned the young lady, sobbing.

'It will never reach your ears, dear lady, and God forbid suchhorrors should!' replied the girl. 'Good-night, good-night!'

The gentleman turned away.

'This purse,' cried the young lady. 'Take it for my sake, thatyou may have some resource in an hour of need and trouble.'

'No!' replied the girl. 'I have not done this for money. Let mehave that to think of. And yet--give me something that you haveworn: I should like to have something--no, no, not a ring--yourgloves or handkerchief--anything that I can keep, as havingbelonged to you, sweet lady. There. Bless you! God bless you. Good-night, good-night!'

The violent agitation of the girl, and the apprehension of somediscovery which would subject her to ill-usage and violence,seemed to determine the gentleman to leave her, as she requested.

The sound of retreating footsteps were audible and the voicesceased.

The two figures of the young lady and her companion soonafterwards appeared upon the bridge. They stopped at the summitof the stairs.

'Hark!' cried the young lady, listening. 'Did she call! Ithought I heard her voice.'

'No, my love,' replied Mr. Brownlow, looking sadly back. 'She hasnot moved, and will not till we are gone.'

Rose Maylie lingered, but the old gentleman drew her arm throughhis, and led her, with gentle force, away. As they disappeared,the girl sunk down nearly at her full length upon one of thestone stairs, and vented the anguish of her heart in bittertears.

After a time she arose, and with feeble and tottering stepsascended the street. The astonished listener remained motionlesson his post for some minutes afterwards, and having ascertained,with many cautious glances round him, that he was again alone,crept slowly from his hiding-place, and returned, stealthily andin the shade of the wall, in the same manner as he had descended.

Peeping out, more than once, when he reached the top, to makesure that he was unobserved, Noah Claypole darted away at hisutmost speed, and made for the Jew's house as fast as his legswould carry him.

CHAPTER XLVII

FATAL CONSEQUENCES

It was nearly two hours before day-break; that time which in theautumn of the year, may be truly called the dead of night; whenthe streets are silent and deserted; when even sounds appear toslumber, and profligacy and riot have staggered home to dream; itwas at this still and silent hour, that Fagin sat watching in hisold lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red andblood-shot, that he looked less like a man, than like somehideous phantom, moist from the grave, and worried by an evilspirit.

He sat crouching over a cold hearth, wrapped in an old torncoverlet, with his face turned towards a wasting candle thatstood upon a table by his side. His right hand was raised to hislips, and as, absorbed in thought, he hit his long black nails,he disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as shouldhave been a dog's or rat's.

Stretched upon a mattress on the floor, lay Noah Claypole, fastasleep. Towards him the old man sometimes directed his eyes foran instant, and then brought them back again to the candle; whichwith a long-burnt wick drooping almost double, and hot greasefalling down in clots upon the table, plainly showed that histhoughts were busy elsewhere.

Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notablescheme; hatred of the girl who had dared to palter withstrangers; and utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal toyield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge onSikes; the fear of detection, and ruin, and death; and a fierceand deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionateconsiderations which, following close upon each other with rapidand ceaseless whirl, shot through the brain of Fagin, as everyevil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.

He sat without changing his attitude in the least, or appearingto tkae the smallest heed of time, until his quick ear seemed tobe attracted by a footstep in the street.

'At last,' he muttered, wiping his dry and fevered mouth. 'Atlast!'

The bell rang gently as he spoke. He crept upstairs to the door,and presently returned accompanied by a man muffled to the chin,who carried a bundle under one arm. Sitting down and throwingback his outer coat, the man displayed the burly frame of Sikes.

'There!' he said, laying the bundle on the table. 'Take care ofthat, and do the most you can with it. It's been trouble enoughto get; I thought I should have been here, three hours ago.'

Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in thecupboard, sat down again without speaking. But he did not takehis eyes off the robber, for an instant, during this action; andnow that they sat over against each other, face to face, helooked fixedly at him, with his lips quivering so violently, andhis face so altered by the emotions which had mastered him, thatthe housebreaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyedhim with a look of real affright.

'Wot now?' cried Sikes. 'Wot do you look at a man so for?'

Fagin raised his right hand, and shook his trembling forefingerin the air; but his passion was so great, that the power ofspeech was for the moment gone.

'Damme!' said Sikes, feeling in his breast with a look of alarm. 'He's gone mad. I must look to myself here.'

'No, no,' rejoined Fagin, finding his voice. 'It's not--you'renot the person, Bill. I've no--no fault to find with you.'

'Oh, you haven't, haven't you?' said Sikes, looking sternly athim, and ostentatiously passing a pistol into a more convenientpocket. 'That's lucky--for one of us. Which one that is, don'tmatter.'

'I've got that to tell you, Bill,' said Fagin, drawing his chairnearer, 'will make you worse than me.'

'Aye?' returned the robber with an incredulous air. 'Tell away! Look sharp, or Nance will think I'm lost.'

'Lost!' cried Fagin. 'She has pretty well settled that, in herown mind, already.'

Sikes looked with an aspect of great perplexity into the Jew'sface, and reading no satisfactory explanation of the riddlethere, clenched his coat collar in his huge hand and shook himsoundly.

'Speak, will you!' he said; 'or if you don't, it shall be forwant of breath. Open your mouth and say wot you've got to say inplain words. Out with it, you thundering old cur, out with it!'

'Suppose that lad that's laying there--' Fagin began.

Sikes turned round to where Noah was sleeping, as if he had notpreviously observed him. 'Well!' he said, resuming his formerposition.

'Suppose that lad,' pursued Fagin, 'was to peach--to blow upon usall--first seeking out the right folks for the purpose, and thenhaving a meeting with 'em in the street to paint our likenesses,describe every mark that they might know us by, and the cribwhere we might be most easily taken. Suppose he was to do allthis, and besides to blow upon a plant we've all been in, more orless--of his own fancy; not grabbed, trapped, tried, earwigged bythe parson and brought to it on bread and water,--but of his ownfancy; to please his own taste; stealing out at nights to findthose most interested against us, and peaching to them. Do youhear me?' cried the Jew, his eyes flashing with rage. 'Supposehe did all this, what then?'

'What then!' replied Sikes; with a tremendous oath. 'If he wasleft alive till I came, I'd grind his skull under the iron heelof my boot into as many grains as there are hairs upon his head.'

'What if I did it!' cried Fagin almost in a yell. 'I, that knowsso much, and could hang so many besides myself!'

'I don't know,' replied Sikes, clenching his teeth and turningwhite at the mere suggestion. 'I'd do something in the jail that'ud get me put in irons; and if I was tried along with you, I'dfall upon you with them in the open court, and beat your brainsout afore the people. I should have such strength,' muttered therobber, poising his brawny arm, 'that I could smash your head asif a loaded waggon had gone over it.'

'You would?'

'Would I!' said the housebreaker. 'Try me.'

'If it was Charley, or the Dodger, or Bet, or--'

'I don't care who,' replied Sikes impatiently. 'Whoever it was,I'd serve them the same.'

Fagin looked hard at the robber; and, motioning him to be silent,stooped over the bed upon the floor, and shook the sleeper torouse him. Sikes leant forward in his chair: looking on withhis hands upon his knees, as if wondering much what all thisquestioning and preparation was to end in.

'Bolter, Bolter! Poor lad!' said Fagin, looking up with anexpression of devilish anticipation, and speaking slowly and withmarked emphasis. 'He's tired--tired with watching for her solong,--watching for her, Bill.'

'Wot d'ye mean?' asked Sikes, drawing back.

Fagin made no answer, but bending over the sleeper again, hauledhim into a sitting posture. When his assumed name had beenrepeated several times, Noah rubbed his eyes, and, giving a heavyyawn, looked sleepily about him.

'Tell me that again--once again, just for him to hear,' said theJew, pointing to Sikes as he spoke.

'Tell yer what?' asked the sleepy Noah, shaking himself pettishy.

'That about--NANCY,' said Fagin, clutching Sikes by the wrist, asif to prevent his leaving the house before he had heard enough. 'You followed her?'

'Yes.'

'To London Bridge?'

'Yes.'

'Where she met two people.'

'So she did.'

'A gentleman and a lady that she had gone to of her own accordbefore, who asked her to give up all her pals, and Monks first,which she did--and to describe him, which she did--and to tellher what house it was that we meet at, and go to, which shedid--and where it could be best watched from, which she did--andwhat time the people went there, which she did. She did allthis. She told it all every word without a threat, without amurmur--she did--did she not?' cried Fagin, half mad with fury.

'All right,' replied Noah, scratching his head. 'That's justwhat it was!'

'What did they say, about last Sunday?'

'About last Sunday!' replied Noah, considering. 'Why I told yerthat before.'

'Again. Tell it again!' cried Fagin, tightening his grasp onSikes, and brandishing his other hand aloft, as the foam flewfrom his lips.

'They asked her,' said Noah, who, as he grew more wakeful, seemedto have a dawning perception who Sikes was, 'they asked her whyshe didn't come, last Sunday, as she promised. She said shecouldn't.'

'Why--why? Tell him that.'

'Because she was forcibly kept at home by Bill, the man she hadtold them of before,' replied Noah.

'What more of him?' cried Fagin. 'What more of the man she hadtold them of before? Tell him that, tell him that.'

'Why, that she couldn't very easily get out of doors unless heknew where she was going to,' said Noah; 'and so the first timeshe went to see the lady, she--ha! ha! ha! it made me laugh whenshe said it, that it did--she gave him a drink of laudanum.'

'Hell's fire!' cried Sikes, breaking fiercely from the Jew. 'Letme go!'

Flinging the old man from him, he rushed from the room, anddarted, wildly and furiously, up the stairs.

'Bill, Bill!' cried Fagin, following him hastily. 'A word. Onlya word.'

The word would not have been exchanged, but that the housebreakerwas unable to open the door: on which he was expending fruitlessoaths and violence, when the Jew came panting up.

'Let me out,' said Sikes. 'Don't speak to me; it's not safe. Let me out, I say!'

'Hear me speak a word,' rejoined Fagin, laying his hand upon thelock. 'You won't be--'

'Well,' replied the other.

'You won't be--too--violent, Bill?'

The day was breaking, and there was light enough for the men tosee each other's faces. They exchanged one brief glance; therewas a fire in the eyes of both, which could not be mistaken.

'I mean,' said Fagin, showing that he felt all disguise was nowuseless, 'not too violent for safety. Be crafty, Bill, and nottoo bold.'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
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