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suffering, and had suffered too much where he was, to bewail the
prospect of change very severely. He remained lost in thought
for some minutes; and then, with a heavy sigh, snuffed the
candle, and, taking up the book which the Jew had left with him,
began to read.
He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on
a passage which attracted his attention, he soon became intent
upon the volume. It was a history of the lives and trials of
great criminals; and the pages were soiled and thumbed with use.
Here, he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood run cold; of
secret murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; of
bodies hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which
would not keep them down, deep as they were, but had yielded them
up at last, after many years, and so maddened the murderers with
the sight, that in their horror they had confessed their guilt,
and yelled for the gibbet to end their agony. Here, too, he read
of men who, lying in their beds at dead of night, had been
tempted (so they said) and led on, by their own bad thoughts, to
such dreadful bloodshed as it made the flesh creep, and the limbs
quail, to think of. The terrible descriptions were so real and
vivid, that the sallow pages seemed to turn red with gore; and
the words upon them, to be sounded in his ears, as if they were
whispered, in hollow murmers, by the spirits of the dead.
In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it
from him. Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to
spare him from such deeds; and rather to will that he should die
at once, than be reserved for crimes, so fearful and appaling.
By degrees, he grew more calm, and besought, in a low and broken
voice, that he might be rescued from his present dangers; and
that if any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who
had never known the love of friends or kindred, it might come to
him now, when, desolate and deserted, he stood alone in the midst
of wickedness and guilt.
He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head
buried in his hands, when a rustling noise aroused him.
'What's that!' he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a
figure standing by the door. 'Who's there?'
'Me. Only me,' replied a tremulous voice.
Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the
door. It was Nancy.
'Put down the light,' said the girl, turning away her head. 'It
hurts my eyes.'
Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she
were ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back
towards him: and wrung her hands; but made no reply.
'God forgive me!' she cried after a while, 'I never thought of
'Has anything happened?' asked Oliver. 'Can I help you? I will
if I can. I will, indeed.'
She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a
gurgling sound, gasped for breath.
'Nancy!' cried Oliver, 'What is it?'
The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the
ground; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her:
and shivered with cold.
Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat
there, for a little time, without speaking; but at length she
raised her head, and looked round.
'I don't know what comes over me sometimes,' said she, affecting
to busy herself in arranging her dress; 'it's this damp dirty
room, I think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?'
'Am I to go with you?' asked Oliver.
'Yes. I have come from Bill,' replied the girl. 'You are to go
'What for?' asked Oliver, recoiling.
'What for?' echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them
again, the moment they encountered the boy's face. 'Oh! For no
'I don't believe it,' said Oliver: who had watched her closely.
'Have it your own way,' rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh.
'For no good, then.'
Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl's better
feelings, and, for an instant, thought of appealing to her
compassion for his helpless state. But, then, the thought darted
across his mind that it was barely eleven o'clock; and that many
people were still in the streets: of whom surely some might be
found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured to
him, he stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was
Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his
companion. She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon
him a look of intelligence which sufficiently showed that she
guessed what had been passing in his thoughts.
'Hush!' said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the
door as she looked cautiously round. 'You can't help yourself. I
have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged
round and round. If ever you are to get loose from here, this is
not the time.'
Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face
with great surprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her
countenance was white and agitated; and she trembled with very
'I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and
I do now,' continued the girl aloud; 'for those who would have
fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than
me. I have promised for your being quiet and silent; if you are
not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too, and perhaps be
my death. See here! I have borne all this for you already, as
true as God sees me show it.'
She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms;
and continued, with great rapidity:
'Remember this! And don't let me suffer more for you, just now.
If I could help you, I would; but I have not the power. They
don't mean to harm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of
yours. Hush! Every word from you is a blow for me. Give me
your hand. Make haste! Your hand!
She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers,
and, blowing out the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The
door was opened, quickly, by some one shrouded in the darkness,
and was as quickly closed, when they had passed out. A
hackney-cabriolet was in waiting; with the same vehemence which
she had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in
with her, and drew the curtains close. The driver wanted no
directions, but lashed his horse into full speed, without the
delay of an instant.
The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to
pour into his ear, the warnings and assurances she had already
imparted. All was so quick and hurried, that he had scarcely
time to recollect where he was, or how he came there, when to
carriage stopped at the house to which the Jew's steps had been
directed on the previous evening.
For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the
empty street, and a cry for help hung upon his lips. But the
girl's voice was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of
agony to remember her, that he had not the heart to utter it.
While he hesitated, the opportunity was gone; he was already in
the house, and the door was shut.
'This way,' said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time.
'Hallo!' replied Sikes: appearing at the head of the stairs, with
a candle. 'Oh! That's the time of day. Come on!'
This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly
hearty welcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes' temperament. Nancy,
appearing much gratified thereby, saluted him cordially.
'Bull's-eye's gone home with Tom,' observed Sikes, as he lighted
them up. 'He'd have been in the way.'
'That's right,' rejoined Nancy.
'So you've got the kid,' said Sikes when they had all reached the
room: closing the door as he spoke.
'Yes, here he is,' replied Nancy.
'Did he come quiet?' inquired Sikes.
'Like a lamb,' rejoined Nancy.
'I'm glad to hear it,' said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver; 'for
the sake of his young carcase: as would otherways have suffered
for it. Come here, young 'un; and let me read you a lectur',
which is as well got over at once.'
Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver's cap
and threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder,
sat himself down by the table, and stood the boy in front of him.
'Now, first: do you know wot this is?' inquired Sikes, taking up
a pocket-pistol which lay on the table.
Oliver replied in the affirmative.
'Well, then, look here,' continued Sikes. 'This is powder; that
'ere's a bullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for