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it?' said Fagin, determined not to be offended.
'Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil,' returned Sikes. 'There
never was another man with such a face as yours, unless it was
your father, and I suppose HE is singeing his grizzled red beard
by this time, unless you came straight from the old 'un without
any father at all betwixt you; which I shouldn't wonder at, a
Fagin offered no reply to this compliment: but, pulling Sikes by
the sleeve, pointed his finger towards Nancy, who had taken
advantage of the foregoing conversation to put on her bonnet, and
was now leaving the room.
'Hallo!' cried Sikes. 'Nance. Where's the gal going to at this
time of night?'
'What answer's that?' retorted Sikes. 'Do you hear me?'
'I don't know where,' replied the girl.
'Then I do,' said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy than
because he had any real objection to the girl going where she
listed. 'Nowhere. Sit down.'
'I'm not well. I told you that before,' rejoined the girl. 'I
want a breath of air.'
'Put your head out of the winder,' replied Sikes.
'There's not enough there,' said the girl. 'I want it in the
'Then you won't have it,' replied Sikes. With which assurance he
rose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnet
from her head, flung it up to the top of an old press. 'There,'
said the robber. 'Now stop quietly where you are, will you?'
'It's not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,' said the girl
turning very pale. 'What do you mean, Bill? Do you know what
'Know what I'm--Oh!' cried Sikes, turning to Fagin, 'she's out of
her senses, you know, or she daren't talk to me in that way.'
'You'll drive me on the something desperate,' muttered the girl
placing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down by
force some violent outbreak. 'Let me go, will you,--this
'No!' said Sikes.
'Tell him to let me go, Fagin. He had better. It'll be better
for him. Do you hear me?' cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the
'Hear you!' repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confront
her. 'Aye! And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog
shall have such a grip on your throat as'll tear some of that
screaming voice out. Wot has come over you, you jade! Wot is
'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
'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
'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
'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 is 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?'
'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
'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 girls, 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
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.'