Oliver Twist 113

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‚I told you before,‘ replied Nancy, ‚that I was afraid to speak to you there. I don’t know why it is,‘ said the girl, shuddering, ‚but I have such a fear and dread upon me to-night that I can hardly stand.‘

‚A fear of what?‘ asked the gentleman, who seemed to pity her.

‚I scarcely know of what,‘ replied the girl. ‚I wish I did. Horrible thoughts of death, and shrouds with blood upon them, and a fear that has made me burn as if I was on fire, have been upon me all day. I was reading a book to-night, to wile the time away, and the same things came into the print.‘

‚Imagination,‘ said the gentleman, soothing her.

‚No imagination,‘ replied the girl in a hoarse voice. ‚I’ll swear I saw „coffin“ written in every page of the book in large black letters,–aye, and they carried one close to me, in the streets to-night.‘

‚There is nothing unusual in that,‘ said the gentleman. ‚They have passed me often.‘

‚_Real ones_,‘ rejoined the girl. ‚This was not.‘

There was something so uncommon in her manner, that the flesh of the concealed listener crept as he heard the girl utter these words, and the blood chilled within him. He had never experienced a greater relief than in hearing the sweet voice of the young lady as she begged her to be calm, and not allow herself to become the prey of such fearful fancies.

‚Speak to her kindly,‘ said the young lady to her companion. ‚Poor creature! She seems to need it.‘

‚Your haughty religious people would have held their heads up to see me as I am to-night, and preached of flames and vengeance,‘ cried the girl. ‚Oh, dear lady, why ar’n’t those who claim to be God’s own folks as gentle and as kind to us poor wretches as you, who, having youth, and beauty, and all that they have lost, might be a little proud instead of so much humbler?‘

‚Ah!‘ said the gentleman. ‚A Turk turns his face, after washing it well, to the East, when he says his prayers; these good people, after giving their faces such a rub against the World as to take the smiles off, turn with no less regularity, to the darkest side of Heaven. Between the Mussulman and the Pharisee, commend me to the first!‘

These words appeared to be addressed to the young lady, and were perhaps uttered with the view of affording Nancy time to recover herself. The gentleman, shortly afterwards, addressed himself to her.

‚You were not here last Sunday night,‘ he said.

‚I couldn’t come,‘ replied Nancy; ‚I was kept by force.‘

‚By whom?‘

‚Him that I told the young lady of before.‘

‚You were not suspected of holding any communication with anybody on the subject which has brought us here to-night, I hope?‘ asked the old gentleman.

‚No,‘ replied the girl, shaking her head. ‚It’s not very easy for me to leave him unless he knows why; I couldn’t give him a drink of laudanum before I came away.‘

‚Did he awake before you returned?‘ inquired the gentleman.

‚No; and neither he nor any of them suspect me.‘

‚Good,‘ said the gentleman. ‚Now listen to me.‘

‚I am ready,‘ replied the girl, as he paused for a moment.

‚This young lady,‘ the gentleman began, ‚has communicated to me, and to some other friends who can be safely trusted, what you told her nearly a fortnight since. I confess to you that I had doubts, at first, whether you were to be implicitly relied upon, but now I firmly believe you are.‘

‚I am,‘ said the girl earnestly.

‚I repeat that I firmly believe it. To prove to you that I am disposed to trust you, I tell you without reserve, that we propose to extort the secret, whatever it may be, from the fear of this man Monks. But if–if–‚ said the gentleman, ‚he cannot be secured, or, if secured, cannot be acted upon as we wish, you must deliver up the Jew.‘

‚Fagin,‘ cried the girl, recoiling.

‚That man must be delivered up by you,‘ said the gentleman.

‚I will not do it! I will never do it!‘ replied the girl. ‚Devil that he is, and worse than devil as he has been to me, I will never do that.‘

‚You will not?‘ said the gentleman, who seemed fully prepared for this answer.

‚Never!‘ returned the girl.

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