‚Tell me why?‘
‚For one reason,‘ rejoined the girl firmly, ‚for one reason, that the lady knows and will stand by me in, I know she will, for I have her promise: and for this other reason, besides, that, bad life as he has led, I have led a bad life too; there are many of us who have kept the same courses together, and I’ll not turn upon them, who might–any of them–have turned upon me, but didn’t, bad as they are.‘
‚Then,‘ said the gentleman, quickly, as if this had been the point he had been aiming to attain; ‚put Monks into my hands, and leave him to me to deal with.‘
‚What if he turns against the others?‘
‚I promise you that in that case, if the truth is forced from him, there the matter will rest; there must be circumstances in Oliver’s little history which it would be painful to drag before the public eye, and if the truth is once elicited, they shall go scot free.‘
‚And if it is not?‘ suggested the girl.
‚Then,‘ pursued the gentleman, ‚this Fagin shall not be brought to justice without your consent. In such a case I could show you reasons, I think, which would induce you to yield it.‘
‚Have I the lady’s promise for that?‘ asked the girl.
‚You have,‘ replied Rose. ‚My true and faithful pledge.‘
‚Monks would never learn how you knew what you do?‘ said the girl, after a short pause.
‚Never,‘ replied the gentleman. ‚The intelligence should be brought to bear upon him, that he could never even guess.‘
‚I have been a liar, and among liars from a little child,‘ said the girl after another interval of silence, ‚but I will take your words.‘
After receiving an assurance from both, that she might safely do so, she proceeded in a voice so low that it was often difficult for the listener to discover even the purport of what she said, to describe, by name and situation, the public-house whence she had been followed that night. From the manner in which she occasionally paused, it appeared as if the gentleman were making some hasty notes of the information she communicated. When she had thoroughly explained the localities of the place, the best position from which to watch it without exciting observation, and the night and hour on which Monks was most in the habit of frequenting it, she seemed to consider for a few moments, for the purpose of recalling his features and appearances more forcibly to her recollection.
‚He is tall,‘ said the girl, ‚and a strongly made man, but not stout; he has a lurking walk; and as he walks, constantly looks over his shoulder, first on one side, and then on the other. Don’t forget that, for his eyes are sunk in his head so much deeper than any other man’s, that you might almost tell him by that alone. His face is dark, like his hair and eyes; and, although he can’t be more than six or eight and twenty, withered and haggard. His lips are often discoloured and disfigured with the marks of teeth; for he has desperate fits, and sometimes even bites his hands and covers them with wounds–why did you start?‘ said the girl, stopping suddenly.
The gentleman replied, in a hurried manner, that he was not conscious of having done so, and begged her to proceed.
‚Part of this,‘ said the girl, ‚I have drawn out from other people at the house I tell you of, for I have only seen him twice, and both times he was covered up in a large cloak. I think that’s all I can give you to know him by. Stay though,‘ she added. ‚Upon his throat: so high that you can see a part of it below his neckerchief when he turns his face: there is–‚
‚A broad red mark, like a burn or scald?‘ cried the gentleman.
‚How’s this?‘ said the girl. ‚You know him!‘
The young lady uttered a cry of surprise, and for a few moments they were so still that the listener could distinctly hear them breathe.
‚I think I do,‘ said the gentleman, breaking silence. ‚I should by your description. We shall see. Many people are singularly like each other. It may not be the same.‘
As he expressed himself to this effect, with assumed carelessness, he took a step or two nearer the concealed spy, as the latter could tell from the distinctness with which he heard him mutter, ‚It must be he!‘
‚Now,‘ he said, returning: so it seemed by the sound: to the spot where he had stood before, ‚you have given us most valuable assistance, young woman, and I wish you to be the better for it. What can I do to serve you?‘
‚Nothing,‘ replied Nancy.
‚You will not persist in saying that,‘ rejoined the gentleman, with a voice and emphasis of kindness that might have touched a much harder and more obdurate heart. ‚Think now. Tell me.‘
‚Nothing, sir,‘ rejoined the girl, weeping. ‚You can do nothing to help me. I am past all hope, indeed.‘
‚You put yourself beyond its pale,‘ said the gentleman. ‚The past has been a dreary waste with you, of youthful energies mis-spent, and such priceless treasures lavished, as the Creator bestows but once and never grants again, but, for the future, you may hope. I do not say that it is in our power to offer you peace of heart and mind, for that must come as you seek it; but a quiet asylum, either in England, or, if you fear to remain here, in some foreign country, it is not only within the compass of our ability but our most anxious wish to secure you. Before the dawn of morning, before this river wakes to the first glimpse of day-light, you shall be placed as entirely beyond the reach of your former associates, and leave as utter an absence of all trace behind you, as if you were to disappear from the earth this moment. Come! I would not have you go back to exchange one word with any old companion, or take one look at any old haunt, or breathe the very air which is pestilence and death to you. Quit them all, while there is time and opportunity!‘
‚She will be persuaded now,‘ cried the young lady. ‚She hesitates, I am sure.‘
‚I fear not, my dear,‘ said the gentleman.
‚No sir, I do not,‘ replied the girl, after a short struggle. ‚I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannot leave it. I must have gone too far to turn back,–and yet I don’t know, for if you had spoken to me so, some time ago, I should have laughed it off. But,‘ she said, looking hastily round, ‚this fear comes over me again. I must go home.‘
‚Home!‘ repeated the young lady, with great stress upon the word.