Charles Dickens >> Oliver Twist (page 56)

Sikes made no reply; but, pulling open the door, of which Faginhad turned the lock, dashed into the silent streets.

Without one pause, or moment's consideration; without onceturning his head to the right or left, or raising his eyes to thesky, or lowering them to the ground, but looking straight beforehim with savage resolution: his teeth so tightly compressed thatthe strained jaw seemed starting through his skin; the robberheld on his headlong course, nor muttered a word, nor relaxed amuscle, until he reached his own door. He opened it, softly,with a key; strode lightly up the stairs; and entering his ownroom, double-locked the door, and lifting a heavy table againstit, drew back the curtain of the bed.

The girl was lying, half-dressed, upon it. He had roused herfrom her sleep, for she raised herself with a hurried andstartled look.

'Get up!' said the man.

'It is you, Bill!' said the girl, with an expression of pleasureat his return.

'It is,' was the reply. 'Get up.'

There was a candle burning, but the man hastily drew it from thecandlestick, and hurled it under the grate. Seeing the faintlight of early day without, the girl rose to undraw the curtain.

'Let it be,' said Sikes, thrusting his hand before her. 'There'senough light for wot I've got to do.'

'Bill,' said the girl, in the low voice of alarm, 'why do youlook like that at me!'

The robber sat regarding her, for a few seconds, with dilatednostrils and heaving breast; and then, grasping her by the headand throat, dragged her into the middle of the room, and lookingonce towards the door, placed his heavy hand upon her mouth.

'Bill, Bill!' gasped the girl, wrestling with the strength ofmortal fear,--'I--I won't scream or cry--not once--hear me--speakto me--tell me what I have done!'

'You know, you she devil!' returned the robber, suppressing hisbreath. 'You were watched to-night; every word you said washeard.'

'Then spare my life for the love of Heaven, as I spared yours,'rejoined the girl, clinging to him. 'Bill, dear Bill, you cannothave the heart to kill me. Oh! think of all I have given up,only this one night, for you. You SHALL have time to think, andsave yourself this crime; I will not loose my hold, you cannotthrow me off. Bill, Bill, for dear God's sake, for your own, formine, stop before you spill my blood! I have been true to you,upon my guilty soul I have!'

The man struggled violently, to release his arms; but those ofthe girl were clasped round his, and tear her as he would, hecould not tear them away.

'Bill,' cried the girl, striving to lay her head upon his breast,'the gentleman and that dear lady, told me to-night of a home insome foreign country where I could end my days in solitude andpeace. Let me see them again, and beg them, on my knees, to showthe same mercy and goodness to you; and let us both leave thisdreadful place, and far apart lead better lives, and forget howwe have lived, except in prayers, and never see each other more. It is never too late to repent. They told me so--I feel itnow--but we must have time--a little, little time!'

The housebreaker freed one arm, and grasped his pistol. Thecertainty of immediate detection if he fired, flashed across hismind even in the midst of his fury; and he beat it twice with allthe force he could summon, upon the upturned face that almosttouched his own.

She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood thatrained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raisingherself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom awhite handkerchief--Rose Maylie's own--and holding it up, in herfolded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength wouldallow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker.

It was a ghastly figure to look upon. The murderer staggeringbackward to the wall, and shutting out the sight with his hand,seized a heavy club and struck her down.



Of all bad deeds that, under cover of the darkness, had beencommitted with wide London's bounds since night hung over it,that was the worst. Of all the horrors that rose with an illscent upon the morning air, that was the foulest and most cruel.

The sun--the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, butnew life, and hope, and freshness to man--burst upon the crowdedcity in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glassand paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rottencrevice, it shed its equal ray. It lighted up the room where themurdered woman lay. It did. He tried to shut it out, but itwould stream in. If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dullmorning, what was it, now, in all that brilliant light!

He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir. There had been amoan and motion of the hand; and, with terror added to rage, hehad struck and struck again. Once he threw a rug over it; but itwas worse to fancy the eyes, and imagine them moving towards him,than to see them glaring upward, as if watching the reflection ofthe pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on theceiling. He had plucked it off again. And there was thebody--mere flesh and blood, nor more--but such flesh, and so muchblood!

He struck a light, kindled a fire, and thrust the club into it. There was hair upon the end, which blazed and shrunk into a lightcinder, and, caught by the air, whirled up the chimney. Eventhat frightened him, sturdy as he was; but he held the weapontill it broke, and then piled it on the coals to burn away, andsmoulder into ashes. He washed himself, and rubbed his clothes;there were spots that would not be removed, but he cut the piecesout, and burnt them. How those stains were dispersed about theroom! The very feet of the dog were bloody.

All this time he had, never once, turned his back upon thecorpse; no, not for a moment. Such preparations completed, hemoved, backward, towards the door: dragging the dog with him,lest he should soil his feet anew and carry out new evidence ofthe crime into the streets. He shut the door softly, locked it,took the key, and left the house.

He crossed over, and glanced up at the window, to be sure thatnothing was visible from the outside. There was the curtainstill drawn, which she would have opened to admit the light shenever saw again. It lay nearly under there. HE knew that. God,how the sun poured down upon the very spot!

The glance was instantaneous. It was a relief to have got freeof the room. He whistled on the dog, and walked rapidly away.

He went through Islington; strode up the hill at Highgate onwhich stands the stone in honour of Whittington; turned down toHighgate Hill, unsteady of purpose, and uncertain where to go;struck off to the right again, almost as soon as he began todescend it; and taking the foot-path across the fields, skirtedCaen Wood, and so came on Hampstead Heath. Traversing the hollowby the Vale of Heath, he mounted the opposite bank, and crossingthe road which joins the villages of Hampstead and Highgate, madealong the remaining portion of the heath to the fields at NorthEnd, in one of which he laid himself down under a hedge, andslept.

Soon he was up again, and away,--not far into the country, butback towards London by the high-road--then back again--then overanother part of the same ground as he already traversed--thenwandering up and down in fields, and lying on ditches' brinks torest, and starting up to make for some other spot, and do thesame, and ramble on again.

Where could he go, that was near and not too public, to get somemeat and drink? Hendon. That was a good place, not far off, andout of most people's way. Thither he directed hissteps,--running sometimes, and sometimes, with a strangeperversity, loitering at a snail's pace, or stopping altogetherand idly breaking the hedges with a stick. But when he gotthere, all the people he met--the very children at thedoors--seemed to view him with suspicion. Back he turned again,without the courage to purchase bit or drop, though he had tastedno food for many hours; and once more he lingered on the Heath,uncertain where to go.

He wandered over miles and miles of ground, and still came backto the old place. Morning and noon had passed, and the day wason the wane, and still he rambled to and fro, and up and down,and round and round, and still lingered about the same spot. Atlast he got away, and shaped his course for Hatfield.

It was nine o'clock at night, when the man, quite tired out, andthe dog, limping and lame from the unaccustomed exercise, turneddown the hill by the church of the quiet village, and ploddingalong the little street, crept into a small public-house, whosescanty light had guided them to the spot. There was a fire inthe tap-room, and some country-labourers were drinking before it.

They made room for the stranger, but he sat down in the furthestcorner, and ate and drank alone, or rather with his dog: to whomhe cast a morsel of food from time to time.

The conversation of the men assembled here, turned upon theneighboring land, and farmers; and when those topics wereexhausted, upon the age of some old man who had been buried onthe previous Sunday; the young men present considering him veryold, and the old men present declaring him to have been quiteyoung--not older, one white-haired grandfather said, than hewas--with ten or fifteen year of life in him at least--if he hadtaken care; if he had taken care.

There was nothing to attract attention, or excite alarm in this. The robber, after paying his reckoning, sat silent and unnoticedin his corner, and had almost dropped asleep, when he was halfwakened by the noisy entrance of a new comer.

This was an antic fellow, half pedlar and half mountebank, whotravelled about the country on foot to vend hones, stops, razors,washballs, harness-paste, medicine for dogs and horses, cheapperfumery, cosmetics, and such-like wares, which he carried in acase slung to his back. His entrance was the signal for varioushomely jokes with the countrymen, which slackened not until hehad made his supper, and opened his box of treasures, when heingeniously contrived to unite business with amusement.

'And what be that stoof? Good to eat, Harry?' asked a grinningcountryman, pointing to some composition-cakes in one corner.

'This,' said the fellow, producing one, 'this is the infallibleand invaluable composition for removing all sorts of stain, rust,dirt, mildew, spick, speck, spot, or spatter, from silk, satin,linen, cambrick, cloth, crape, stuff, carpet, merino, muslin,bombazeen, or woollen stuff. Wine-stains, fruit-stains,beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains, pitch-stains, anystains, all come out at one rub with the infallible andinvaluable composition. If a lady stains her honour, she hasonly need to swallow one cake and she's cured at once--for it'spoison. If a gentleman wants to prove this, he has only need tobolt one little square, and he has put it beyond question--forit's quite as satisfactory as a pistol-bullet, and a great dealnastier in the flavour, consequently the more credit in takingit. One penny a square. With all these virtues, one penny asquare!'

There were two buyers directly, and more of the listeners plainlyhesitated. The vendor observing this, increased in loquacity.

'It's all bought up as fast as it can be made,' said the fellow. 'There are fourteen water-mills, six steam-engines, and agalvanic battery, always a-working upon it, and they can't makeit fast enough, though the men work so hard that they die off,and the widows is pensioned directly, with twenty pound a-yearfor each of the children, and a premium of fifty for twins. Onepenny a square! Two half-pence is all the same, and fourfarthings is received with joy. One penny a square! Wine-stains, fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains,paint-stains, pitch-stains, mud-stains, blood-stains! Here is astain upon the hat of a gentleman in company, that I'll takeclean out, before he can order me a pint of ale.'

'Hah!' cried Sikes starting up. 'Give that back.'

'I'll take it clean out, sir,' replied the man, winking to thecompany, 'before you can come across the room to get it. Gentlemen all, observe the dark stain upon this gentleman's hat,no wider than a shilling, but thicker than a half-crown. Whetherit is a wine-stain, fruit-stain, beer-stain, water-stain,paint-stain, pitch-stain, mud-stain, or blood-stain--'

The man got no further, for Sikes with a hideous imprecationoverthrew the table, and tearing the hat from him, burst out ofthe house.

With the same perversity of feeling and irresolution that hadfastened upon him, despite himself, all day, the murderer,finding that he was not followed, and that they most probablyconsidered him some drunken sullen fellow, turned back up thetown, and getting out of the glare of the lamps of a stage-coachthat was standing in the street, was walking past, when herecognised the mail from London, and saw that it was standing atthe little post-office. He almost knew what was to come; but hecrossed over, and listened.

The guard was standing at the door, waiting for the letter-bag. A man, dressed like a game-keeper, came up at the moment, and hehanded him a basket which lay ready on the pavement.

'That's for your people,' said the guard. 'Now, look alive inthere, will you. Damn that 'ere bag, it warn't ready night aforelast; this won't do, you know!'

'Anything new up in town, Ben?' asked the game-keeper, drawingback to the window-shutters, the better to admire the horses.

'No, nothing that I knows on,' replied the man, pulling on hisgloves. 'Corn's up a little. I heerd talk of a murder, too,down Spitalfields way, but I don't reckon much upon it.'

'Oh, that's quite true,' said a gentleman inside, who was lookingout of the window. 'And a dreadful murder it was.'

'Was it, sir?' rejoined the guard, touching his hat. 'Man orwoman, pray, sir?'

'A woman,' replied the gentleman. 'It is supposed--'

'Now, Ben,' replied the coachman impatiently.

'Damn that 'ere bag,' said the guard; 'are you gone to sleep inthere?'

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 147179 times


Page generation 0.001 seconds