‚He’s drunk it all up, every drop,‘ said Chitling after watching the dog some time in silence. ‚Covered with mud–lame–half blind–he must have come a long way.‘
‚Where can he have come from!‘ exclaimed Toby. ‚He’s been to the other kens of course, and finding them filled with strangers come on here, where he’s been many a time and often. But where can he have come from first, and how comes he here alone without the other!‘
‚He‘–(none of them called the murderer by his old name)–‚He can’t have made away with himself. What do you think?‘ said Chitling.
Toby shook his head.
‚If he had,‘ said Kags, ‚the dog ‚ud want to lead us away to where he did it. No. I think he’s got out of the country, and left the dog behind. He must have given him the slip somehow, or he wouldn’t be so easy.‘
This solution, appearing the most probable one, was adopted as the right; the dog, creeping under a chair, coiled himself up to sleep, without more notice from anybody.
It being now dark, the shutter was closed, and a candle lighted and placed upon the table. The terrible events of the last two days had made a deep impression on all three, increased by the danger and uncertainty of their own position. They drew their chairs closer together, starting at every sound. They spoke little, and that in whispers, and were as silent and awe-stricken as if the remains of the murdered woman lay in the next room.
They had sat thus, some time, when suddenly was heard a hurried knocking at the door below.
‚Young Bates,‘ said Kags, looking angrily round, to check the fear he felt himself.
The knocking came again. No, it wasn’t he. He never knocked like that.
Crackit went to the window, and shaking all over, drew in his head. There was no need to tell them who it was; his pale face was enough. The dog too was on the alert in an instant, and ran whining to the door.
‚We must let him in,‘ he said, taking up the candle.
‚Isn’t there any help for it?‘ asked the other man in a hoarse voice.
‚None. He _must_ come in.‘
‚Don’t leave us in the dark,‘ said Kags, taking down a candle from the chimney-piece, and lighting it, with such a trembling hand that the knocking was twice repeated before he had finished.
Crackit went down to the door, and returned followed by a man with the lower part of his face buried in a handkerchief, and another tied over his head under his hat. He drew them slowly off. Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days‘ growth, wasted flesh, short thick breath; it was the very ghost of Sikes.
He laid his hand upon a chair which stood in the middle of the room, but shuddering as he was about to drop into it, and seeming to glance over his shoulder, dragged it back close to the wall–as close as it would go–and ground it against it–and sat down.
Not a word had been exchanged. He looked from one to another in silence. If an eye were furtively raised and met his, it was instantly averted. When his hollow voice broke silence, they all three started. They seemed never to have heard its tones before.
‚How came that dog here?‘ he asked.
‚Alone. Three hours ago.‘
‚To-night’s paper says that Fagin’s took. Is it true, or a lie?‘
They were silent again.
‚Damn you all!‘ said Sikes, passing his hand across his forehead.
‚Have you nothing to say to me?‘
There was an uneasy movement among them, but nobody spoke.
‚You that keep this house,‘ said Sikes, turning his face to Crackit, ‚do you mean to sell me, or to let me lie here till this hunt is over?‘
‚You may stop here, if you think it safe,‘ returned the person addressed, after some hesitation.
Sikes carried his eyes slowly up the wall behind him: rather trying to turn his head than actually doing it: and said, ‚Is–it–the body–is it buried?‘
They shook their heads.