THE TIME ARRIVES FOR NANCY TO REDEEM
HER PLEDGE TO ROSE MAYLIE. SHE FAILS.
Adept as she was, in all the arts
of cunning and dissimulation, the girl Nancy could
not wholly conceal the effect which the knowledge of
the step she had taken, wrought upon her mind.
She remembered that both the crafty Jew and the brutal
Sikes had confided to her schemes, which had been
hidden from all others: in the full confidence
that she was trustworthy and beyond the reach of their
suspicion. Vile as those schemes were, desperate
as were their originators, and bitter as were her
feelings towards Fagin, who had led her, step by step,
deeper and deeper down into an abyss of crime and
misery, whence was no escape; still, there were times
when, even towards him, she felt some relenting, lest
her disclosure should bring him within the iron grasp
he had so long eluded, and he should fall at last richly
as he merited such a fate by her hand.
But, these were the mere wanderings
of a mind unable wholly to detach itself from old
companions and associations, though enabled to fix
itself steadily on one object, and resolved not to
be turned aside by any consideration. Her fears
for Sikes would have been more powerful inducements
to recoil while there was yet time; but she had stipulated
that her secret should be rigidly kept, she had dropped
no clue which could lead to his discovery, she had
refused, even for his sake, a refuge from all the
guilt and wretchedness that encompasses her and
what more could she do! She was resolved.
Though all her mental struggles terminated
in this conclusion, they forced themselves upon her,
again and again, and left their traces too. She
grew pale and thin, even within a few days. At
times, she took no heed of what was passing before
her, or no part in conversations where once, she would
have been the loudest. At other times, she laughed
without merriment, and was noisy without a moment afterwards she
sat silent and dejected, brooding with her head upon
her hands, while the very effort by which she roused
herself, told, more forcibly than even these indications,
that she was ill at ease, and that her thoughts were
occupied with matters very different and distant from
those in the course of discussion by her companions.
It was Sunday night, and the bell
of the nearest church struck the hour. Sikes
and the Jew were talking, but they paused to listen.
The girl looked up from the low seat on which she
crouched, and listened too. Eleven.
‘An hour this side of midnight,’
said Sikes, raising the blind to look out and returning
to his seat. ’Dark and heavy it is too.
A good night for business this.’
‘Ah!’ replied Fagin.
’What a pity, Bill, my dear, that there’s
none quite ready to be done.’
‘You’re right for once,’
replied Sikes gruffly. ’It is a pity, for
I’m in the humour too.’
Fagin sighed, and shook his head despondingly.
’We must make up for lost time
when we’ve got things into a good train.
That’s all I know,’ said Sikes.
‘That’s the way to talk,
my dear,’ replied Fagin, venturing to pat him
on the shoulder. ‘It does me good to hear
‘Does you good, does it!’ cried Sikes.
‘Well, so be it.’
‘Ha! ha! ha!’ laughed
Fagin, as if he were relieved by even this concession.
’You’re like yourself to-night, Bill.
Quite like yourself.’
’I don’t feel like myself
when you lay that withered old claw on my shoulder,
so take it away,’ said Sikes, casting off the
‘It make you nervous, Bill, reminds
you of being nabbed, does 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 bit.’
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
‘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
‘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
‘There’s not enough there,’ said
the girl. ‘I want it in the street.’
‘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 you’re doing?’
‘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 minute 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 ground.
‘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 it?’
‘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.
‘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 say
’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,
‘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
‘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 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
‘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.
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
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
‘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.