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CHAPTER XLVII

FATAL CONSEQUENCES

It was nearly two hours before day-break; that time which in the
autumn of the year, may be truly called the dead of night; when
the streets are silent and deserted; when even sounds appear to
slumber, and profligacy and riot have staggered home to dream; it
was at this still and silent hour, that Fagin sat watching in his
old lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red and
blood-shot, that he looked less like a man, than like some
hideous phantom, moist from the grave, and worried by an evil
spirit.

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

Stretched upon a mattress on the floor, lay Noah Claypole, fast
asleep. Towards him the old man sometimes directed his eyes for
an instant, and then brought them back again to the candle; which
with a long-burnt wick drooping almost double, and hot grease
falling down in clots upon the table, plainly showed that his
thoughts were busy elsewhere.

Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notable
scheme; hatred of the girl who had dared to palter with
strangers; and utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal to
yield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge on
Sikes; the fear of detection, and ruin, and death; and a fierce
and deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionate
considerations which, following close upon each other with rapid
and ceaseless whirl, shot through the brain of Fagin, as every
evil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.

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

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

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 throwing
back his outer coat, the man displayed the burly frame of Sikes.

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

Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in the
cupboard, sat down again without speaking. But he did not take
his eyes off the robber, for an instant, during this action; and
now that they sat over against each other, face to face, he
looked fixedly at him, with his lips quivering so violently, and
his face so altered by the emotions which had mastered him, that
the housebreaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyed
him 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 forefinger
in the air; but his passion was so great, that the power of
speech 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're
not the person, Bill. I've no--no fault to find with you.'

'Oh, you haven't, haven't you?' said Sikes, looking sternly at
him, and ostentatiously passing a pistol into a more convenient
pocket. 'That's lucky--for one of us. Which one that is, don't
matter.'

'I've got that to tell you, Bill,' said Fagin, drawing his chair
nearer, '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 her
own mind, already.'

Sikes looked with an aspect of great perplexity into the Jew's
face, and reading no satisfactory explanation of the riddle
there, clenched his coat collar in his huge hand and shook him
soundly.

'Speak, will you!' he said; 'or if you don't, it shall be for
want of breath. Open your mouth and say wot you've got to say in
plain 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 not
previously observed him. 'Well!' he said, resuming his former
position.

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

'What then!' replied Sikes; with a tremendous oath. 'If he was
left alive till I came, I'd grind his skull under the iron heel
of 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 knows
so much, and could hang so many besides myself!'

'I don't know,' replied Sikes, clenching his teeth and turning
white 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'd
fall upon you with them in the open court, and beat your brains
out afore the people. I should have such strength,' muttered the
robber, poising his brawny arm, 'that I could smash your head as
if 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 to
rouse him. Sikes leant forward in his chair: looking on with
his hands upon his knees, as if wondering much what all this
questioning and preparation was to end in.

'Bolter, Bolter! Poor lad!' said Fagin, looking up with an
expression of devilish anticipation, and speaking slowly and with
marked emphasis. 'He's tired--tired with watching for her so
long,--watching for her, Bill.'

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

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

'Tell me that again--once again, just for him to hear,' said the
Jew, 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, as
if 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 accord
before, who asked her to give up all her pals, and Monks first,
which she did--and to describe him, which she did--and to tell
her what house it was that we meet at, and go to, which she
did--and where it could be best watched from, which she did--and
what time the people went there, which she did. She did all
this. She told it all every word without a threat, without a
murmur--she did--did she not?' cried Fagin, half mad with fury.

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

'What did they say, about last Sunday?'

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

'Again. Tell it again!' cried Fagin, tightening his grasp on
Sikes, and brandishing his other hand aloft, as the foam flew
from his lips.

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

'Why--why? Tell him that.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word would not have been exchanged, but that the housebreaker
was unable to open the door: on which he was expending fruitless
oaths 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 the
lock. '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 to
see each other's faces. They exchanged one brief glance; there
was a fire in the eyes of both, which could not be mistaken.

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

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

Without one pause, or moment's consideration; without once
turning his head to the right or left, or raising his eyes to the
sky, or lowering them to the ground, but looking straight before
him with savage resolution: his teeth so tightly compressed that
the strained jaw seemed starting through his skin; the robber
held on his headlong course, nor muttered a word, nor relaxed a
muscle, until he reached his own door. He opened it, softly,
with a key; strode lightly up the stairs; and entering his own
room, double-locked the door, and lifting a heavy table against
it, drew back the curtain of the bed.

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

'Get up!' said the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'You know, you she devil!' returned the robber, suppressing his
breath. 'You were watched to-night; every word you said was
heard.'

'Then spare my life for the love of Heaven, as I spared yours,'
rejoined the girl, clinging to him. 'Bill, dear Bill, you cannot
have 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, and
save yourself this crime; I will not loose my hold, you cannot
throw me off. Bill, Bill, for dear God's sake, for your own, for
mine, 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 of
the girl were clasped round his, and tear her as he would, he
could 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 in
some foreign country where I could end my days in solitude and
peace. Let me see them again, and beg them, on my knees, to show
the same mercy and goodness to you; and let us both leave this
dreadful place, and far apart lead better lives, and forget how
we have lived, except in prayers, and never see each other more.
It is never too late to repent. They told me so--I feel it
now--but we must have time--a little, little time!'

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

She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that
rained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raising
herself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom a
white handkerchief--Rose Maylie's own--and holding it up, in her
folded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength would
allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker.

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





Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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