Oliver Twist – Day 124 of 173

It might be that her tears relieved her, or that she felt the full hopelessness of her condition; but she turned back; and hurrying with nearly as great rapidity in the contrary direction; partly to recover lost time, and partly to keep pace with the violent current of her own thoughts: soon reached the dwelling where she had left the housebreaker.

If she betrayed any agitation, when she presented herself to Mr. Sikes, he did not observe it; for merely inquiring if she had brought the money, and receiving a reply in the affirmative, he uttered a growl of satisfaction, and replacing his head upon the pillow, resumed the slumbers which her arrival had interrupted.

It was fortunate for her that the possession of money occasioned him so much employment next day in the way of eating and drinking; and withal had so beneficial an effect in smoothing down the asperities of his temper; that he had neither time nor inclination to be very critical upon her behaviour and deportment. That she had all the abstracted and nervous manner of one who is on the eve of some bold and hazardous step, which it has required no common struggle to resolve upon, would have been obvious to the lynx-eyed Fagin, who would most probably have taken the alarm at once; but Mr. Sikes lacking the niceties of discrimination, and being troubled with no more subtle misgivings than those which resolve themselves into a dogged roughness of behaviour towards everybody; and being, furthermore, in an unusually amiable condition, as has been already observed; saw nothing unusual in her demeanor, and indeed, troubled himself so little about her, that, had her agitation been far more perceptible than it was, it would have been very unlikely to have awakened his suspicions.

As that day closed in, the girl’s excitement increased; and, when night came on, and she sat by, watching until the housebreaker should drink himself asleep, there was an unusual paleness in her cheek, and a fire in her eye, that even Sikes observed with astonishment.

Mr. Sikes being weak from the fever, was lying in bed, taking hot water with his gin to render it less inflammatory; and had pushed his glass towards Nancy to be replenished for the third or fourth time, when these symptoms first struck him.

‘Why, burn my body!’ said the man, raising himself on his hands as he stared the girl in the face. ‘You look like a corpse come to life again. What’s the matter?’

‘Matter!’ replied the girl. ‘Nothing. What do you look at me so hard for?’

‘What foolery is this?’ demanded Sikes, grasping her by the arm, and shaking her roughly. ‘What is it? What do you mean? What are you thinking of?’

‘Of many things, Bill,’ replied the girl, shivering, and as she did so, pressing her hands upon her eyes. ‘But, Lord! What odds in that?’

The tone of forced gaiety in which the last words were spoken, seemed to produce a deeper impression on Sikes than the wild and rigid look which had preceded them.

‘I tell you wot it is,’ said Sikes; ‘if you haven’t caught the fever, and got it comin’ on, now, there’s something more than usual in the wind, and something dangerous too. You’re not a-going to–. No, damme! you wouldn’t do that!’

‘Do what?’ asked the girl.

‘There ain’t,’ said Sikes, fixing his eyes upon her, and muttering the words to himself; ‘there ain’t a stauncher-hearted gal going, or I’d have cut her throat three months ago. She’s got the fever coming on; that’s it.’

Fortifying himself with this assurance, Sikes drained the glass to the bottom, and then, with many grumbling oaths, called for his physic. The girl jumped up, with great alacrity; poured it quickly out, but with her back towards him; and held the vessel to his lips, while he drank off the contents.

‘Now,’ said the robber, ‘come and sit aside of me, and put on your own face; or I’ll alter it so, that you won’t know it agin when you do want it.’

The girl obeyed. Sikes, locking her hand in his, fell back upon the pillow: turning his eyes upon her face. They closed; opened again; closed once more; again opened. He shifted his position restlessly; and, after dozing again, and again, for two or three minutes, and as often springing up with a look of terror, and gazing vacantly about him, was suddenly stricken, as it were, while in the very attitude of rising, into a deep and heavy sleep. The grasp of his hand relaxed; the upraised arm fell languidly by his side; and he lay like one in a profound trance.

‘The laudanum has taken effect at last,’ murmured the girl, as she rose from the bedside. ‘I may be too late, even now.’

She hastily dressed herself in her bonnet and shawl: looking fearfully round, from time to time, as if, despite the sleeping draught, she expected every moment to feel the pressure of Sikes’s heavy hand upon her shoulder; then, stooping softly over the bed, she kissed the robber’s lips; and then opening and closing the room-door with noiseless touch, hurried from the house.

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