‚Home, lady,‘ rejoined the girl. ‚To such a home as I have raised for myself with the work of my whole life. Let us part. I shall be watched or seen. Go! Go! If I have done you any service all I ask is, that you leave me, and let me go my way alone.‘
‚It is useless,‘ said the gentleman, with a sigh. ‚We compromise her safety, perhaps, by staying here. We may have detained her longer than she expected already.‘
‚Yes, yes,‘ urged the girl. ‚You have.‘
‚What,‘ cried the young lady, ‚can be the end of this poor creature’s life!‘
‚What!‘ repeated the girl. ‚Look before you, lady. Look at that dark water. How many times do you read of such as I who spring into the tide, and leave no living thing, to care for, or bewail them. It may be years hence, or it may be only months, but I shall come to that at last.‘
‚Do not speak thus, pray,‘ returned the young lady, sobbing.
‚It will never reach your ears, dear lady, and God forbid such horrors should!‘ replied the girl. ‚Good-night, good-night!‘
The gentleman turned away.
‚This purse,‘ cried the young lady. ‚Take it for my sake, that you may have some resource in an hour of need and trouble.‘
‚No!‘ replied the girl. ‚I have not done this for money. Let me have that to think of. And yet–give me something that you have worn: I should like to have something–no, no, not a ring–your gloves or handkerchief–anything that I can keep, as having belonged to you, sweet lady. There. Bless you! God bless you. Good-night, good-night!‘
The violent agitation of the girl, and the apprehension of some discovery which would subject her to ill-usage and violence, seemed to determine the gentleman to leave her, as she requested.
The sound of retreating footsteps were audible and the voices ceased.
The two figures of the young lady and her companion soon afterwards appeared upon the bridge. They stopped at the summit of the stairs.
‚Hark!‘ cried the young lady, listening. ‚Did she call! I thought I heard her voice.‘
‚No, my love,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, looking sadly back. ‚She has not moved, and will not till we are gone.‘
Rose Maylie lingered, but the old gentleman drew her arm through his, and led her, with gentle force, away. As they disappeared, the girl sunk down nearly at her full length upon one of the stone stairs, and vented the anguish of her heart in bitter tears.
After a time she arose, and with feeble and tottering steps ascended the street. The astonished listener remained motionless on his post for some minutes afterwards, and having ascertained, with many cautious glances round him, that he was again alone, crept slowly from his hiding-place, and returned, stealthily and in the shade of the wall, in the same manner as he had descended.
Peeping out, more than once, when he reached the top, to make sure that he was unobserved, Noah Claypole darted away at his utmost speed, and made for the Jew’s house as fast as his legs would carry him.
It was nearly two hours before day-break; that time which in the autumn of the year, may be truly called the dead of night; when the streets are silent and deserted; when even sounds appear to slumber, and profligacy and riot have staggered home to dream; it was at this still and silent hour, that Fagin sat watching in his old lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red and blood-shot, that he looked less like a man, than like some hideous phantom, moist from the grave, and worried by an evil spirit.
He sat crouching over a cold hearth, wrapped in an old torn coverlet, with his face turned towards a wasting candle that stood upon a table by his side. His right hand was raised to his lips, and as, absorbed in thought, he hit his long black nails, he disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as should have been a dog’s or rat’s.
Stretched upon a mattress on the floor, lay Noah Claypole, fast asleep. Towards him the old man sometimes directed his eyes for an instant, and then brought them back again to the candle; which with a long-burnt wick drooping almost double, and hot grease falling down in clots upon the table, plainly showed that his thoughts were busy elsewhere.
Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notable scheme; hatred of the girl who had dared to palter with strangers; and utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal to yield him up; bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge on Sikes; the fear of detection, and ruin, and death; and a fierce and deadly rage kindled by all; these were the passionate considerations which, following close upon each other with rapid and ceaseless whirl, shot through the brain of Fagin, as every evil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.
He sat without changing his attitude in the least, or appearing to take the smallest heed of time, until his quick ear seemed to be attracted by a footstep in the street.
‚At last,‘ he muttered, wiping his dry and fevered mouth. ‚At last!‘
The bell rang gently as he spoke. He crept upstairs to the door, and presently returned accompanied by a man muffled to the chin, who carried a bundle under one arm. Sitting down and throwing back his outer coat, the man displayed the burly frame of Sikes.
‚There!‘ he said, laying the bundle on the table. ‚Take care of that, and do the most you can with it. It’s been trouble enough to get; I thought I should have been here, three hours ago.‘
Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in the cupboard, sat down again without speaking. But he did not take his eyes off the robber, for an instant, during this action; and now that they sat over against each other, face to face, he looked fixedly at him, with his lips quivering so violently, and his face so altered by the emotions which had mastered him, that the housebreaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyed him with a look of real affright.
‚Wot now?‘ cried Sikes. ‚Wot do you look at a man so for?‘