Oliver Twist – Day 142 of 173

‘Let me go,’ said the girl with great earnestness; then sitting herself down on the floor, before the door, she said, ‘Bill, let me go; you don’t know what you are doing. You don’t, indeed. For only one hour–do–do!’

‘Cut my limbs off one by one!’ cried Sikes, seizing her roughly by the arm, ‘If I don’t think the gal’s stark raving mad. Get up.’

‘Not till you let me go–not till you let me go–Never–never!’ screamed the girl. Sikes looked on, for a minute, watching his opportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her, struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small room adjoining, where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting her into a chair, held her down by force. She struggled and implored by turns until twelve o’clock had struck, and then, wearied and exhausted, ceased to contest the point any further. With a caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go out that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined Fagin.

‘Whew!’ said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from his face. ‘Wot a precious strange gal that is!’

‘You may say that, Bill,’ replied Fagin thoughtfully. ‘You may say that.’

‘Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do you think?’ asked Sikes. ‘Come; you should know her better than me. Wot does it mean?’

‘Obstinacy; woman’s obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.’

‘Well, I suppose it is,’ growled Sikes. ‘I thought I had tamed her, but she’s as bad as ever.’

‘Worse,’ said Fagin thoughtfully. ‘I never knew her like this, for such a little cause.’

‘Nor I,’ said Sikes. ‘I think she’s got a touch of that fever in her blood yet, and it won’t come out–eh?’

‘Like enough.’

‘I’ll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, if she’s took that way again,’ said Sikes.

Fagin nodded an expressive approval of this mode of treatment.

‘She was hanging about me all day, and night too, when I was stretched on my back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as you are, kept yourself aloof,’ said Sikes. ‘We was poor too, all the time, and I think, one way or other, it’s worried and fretted her; and that being shut up here so long has made her restless–eh?’

‘That’s it, my dear,’ replied the Jew in a whisper. ‘Hush!’

As he uttered these words, the girl herself appeared and resumed her former seat. Her eyes were swollen and red; she rocked herself to and fro; tossed her head; and, after a little time, burst out laughing.

‘Why, now she’s on the other tack!’ exclaimed Sikes, turning a look of excessive surprise on his companion.

Fagin nodded to him to take no further notice just then; and, in a few minutes, the girl subsided into her accustomed demeanour. Whispering Sikes that there was no fear of her relapsing, Fagin took up his hat and bade him good-night. He paused when he reached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebody would light him down the dark stairs.

‘Light him down,’ said Sikes, who was filling his pipe. ‘It’s a pity he should break his neck himself, and disappoint the sight-seers. Show him a light.’

Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle. When they reached the passage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawing close to the girl, said, in a whisper.

‘What is it, Nancy, dear?’

‘What do you mean?’ replied the girl, in the same tone.

‘The reason of all this,’ replied Fagin. ‘If he’–he pointed with his skinny fore-finger up the stairs–‘is so hard with you (he’s a brute, Nance, a brute-beast), why don’t you–‘

‘Well?’ said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almost touching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers.

‘No matter just now. We’ll talk of this again. You have a friend in me, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand, quiet and close. If you want revenge on those that treat you like a dog–like a dog! worse than his dog, for he humours him sometimes–come to me. I say, come to me. He is the mere hound of a day, but you know me of old, Nance.’

‘I know you well,’ replied the girl, without manifesting the least emotion. ‘Good-night.’

She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, but said good-night again, in a steady voice, and, answering his parting look with a nod of intelligence, closed the door between them.

Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that were working within his brain. He had conceived the idea–not from what had just passed though that had tended to confirm him, but slowly and by degrees–that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker’s brutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend. Her altered manner, her repeated absences from home alone, her comparative indifference to the interests of the gang for which she had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperate impatience to leave home that night at a particular hour, all favoured the supposition, and rendered it, to him at least, almost matter of certainty. The object of this new liking was not among his myrmidons. He would be a valuable acquisition with such an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) be secured without delay.

There was another, and a darker object, to be gained. Sikes knew too much, and his ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less, because the wounds were hidden. The girl must know, well, that if she shook him off, she could never be safe from his fury, and that it would be surely wreaked–to the maiming of limbs, or perhaps the loss of life–on the object of her more recent fancy.

‘With a little persuasion,’ thought Fagin, ‘what more likely than that she would consent to poison him? Women have done such things, and worse, to secure the same object before now. There would be the dangerous villain: the man I hate: gone; another secured in his place; and my influence over the girl, with a knowledge of this crime to back it, unlimited.’

These things passed through the mind of Fagin, during the short time he sat alone, in the housebreaker’s room; and with them uppermost in his thoughts, he had taken the opportunity afterwards afforded him, of sounding the girl in the broken hints he threw out at parting. There was no expression of surprise, no assumption of an inability to understand his meaning. The girl clearly comprehended it. Her glance at parting showed that.

But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life of Sikes, and that was one of the chief ends to be attained. ‘How,’ thought Fagin, as he crept homeward, ‘can I increase my influence with her? What new power can I acquire?’

Such brains are fertile in expedients. If, without extracting a confession from herself, he laid a watch, discovered the object of her altered regard, and threatened to reveal the whole history to Sikes (of whom she stood in no common fear) unless she entered into his designs, could he not secure her compliance?

‘I can,’ said Fagin, almost aloud. ‘She durst not refuse me then. Not for her life, not for her life! I have it all. The means are ready, and shall be set to work. I shall have you yet!’

He cast back a dark look, and a threatening motion of the hand, towards the spot where he had left the bolder villain; and went on his way: busying his bony hands in the folds of his tattered garment, which he wrenched tightly in his grasp, as though there were a hated enemy crushed with every motion of his fingers.

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