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Chapter 40

  • The girl's life had been squandered in the streets, and among the most noisom_f the stews and dens of London, but there was something of the woman'_riginal nature left in her still; and when she heard a light step approachin_he door opposite to that by which she had entered, and thought of the wid_ontrast which the small room would in another moment contain, she fel_urdened with the sense of her own deep shame, and shrunk as though she coul_carcely bear the presence of her with whom she had sought this interview.
  • But struggling with these better feelings was pride,—the vice of the lowes_nd most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured. Th_iserable companion of thieves and ruffians, the fallen outcast of low haunts, the associate of the scourings of the jails and hulks, living within th_hadow of the gallows itself,—even this degraded being felt too proud t_etray a feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which she thought a weakness, bu_hich alone connected her with that humanity, of which her wasting life ha_bliterated so many, many traces when a very child.
  • She raised her eyes sufficiently to observe that the figure which presente_tself was that of a slight and beautiful girl; then, bending them on th_round, she tossed her head with affected carelessness as she said:
  • 'It's a hard matter to get to see you, lady. If I had taken offence, and gon_way, as many would have done, you'd have been sorry for it one day, and no_ithout reason either.'
  • 'I am very sorry if any one has behaved harshly to you,' replied Rose. 'Do no_hink of that. Tell me why you wished to see me. I am the person you inquire_or.'
  • The kind tone of this answer, the sweet voice, the gentle manner, the absenc_f any accent of haughtiness or displeasure, took the girl completely b_urprise, and she burst into tears.
  • 'Oh, lady, lady!' she said, clasping her hands passionately before her face,
  • 'if there was more like you, there would be fewer like me,—there would—ther_ould!'
  • 'Sit down,' said Rose, earnestly. 'If you are in poverty or affliction I shal_e truly glad to relieve you if I can,—I shall indeed. Sit down.'
  • 'Let me stand, lady,' said the girl, still weeping, 'and do not speak to me s_indly till you know me better. It is growing late. Is—is—that door shut?'
  • 'Yes,' said Rose, recoiling a few steps, as if to be nearer assistance in cas_he should require it. 'Why?'
  • 'Because,' said the girl, 'I am about to put my life and the lives of other_n your hands. I am the girl that dragged little Oliver back to old Fagin's o_he night he went out from the house in Pentonville.'
  • 'You!' said Rose Maylie.
  • 'I, lady!' replied the girl. 'I am the infamous creature you have heard of, that lives among the thieves, and that never from the first moment I ca_ecollect my eyes and senses opening on London streets have known any bette_ife, or kinder words than they have given me, so help me God! Do not min_hrinking openly from me, lady. I am younger than you would think, to look a_e, but I am well used to it. The poorest women fall back, as I make my wa_long the crowded pavement.'
  • 'What dreadful things are these!' said Rose, involuntarily falling from he_trange companion.
  • 'Thank Heaven upon your knees, dear lady,' cried the girl, 'that you ha_riends to care for and keep you in your childhood, and that you were never i_he midst of cold and hunger, and riot and drunkenness, and—and—somethin_orse than all—as I have been from my cradle. I may use the word, for th_lley and the gutter were mine, as they will be my deathbed.'
  • 'I pity you!' said Rose, in a broken voice. 'It wrings my heart to hear you!'
  • 'Heaven bless you for your goodness!' rejoined the girl. 'If you knew what _m sometimes, you would pity me, indeed. But I have stolen away from those wh_ould surely murder me, if they knew I had been here, to tell you what I hav_verheard. Do you know a man named Monks?'
  • 'No,' said Rose.
  • 'He knows you,' replied the girl; 'and knew you were here, for it was b_earing him tell the place that I found you out.'
  • 'I never heard the name,' said Rose.
  • 'Then he goes by some other amongst us,' rejoined the girl, 'which I more tha_hought before. Some time ago, and soon after Oliver was put into your hous_n the night of the robbery, I—suspecting this man—listened to a conversatio_eld between him and Fagin in the dark. I found out, from what I heard, tha_onks—the man I asked you about, you know—'
  • 'Yes,' said Rose, 'I understand.'
  • '—That Monks,' pursued the girl, 'had seen him accidently with two of our boy_n the day we first lost him, and had known him directly to be the same chil_hat he was watching for, though I couldn't make out why. A bargain was struc_ith Fagin, that if Oliver was got back he should have a certain sum; and h_as to have more for making him a thief, which this Monks wanted for som_urpose of his own.'
  • 'For what purpose?' asked Rose.
  • 'He caught sight of my shadow on the wall as I listened, in the hope o_inding out,' said the girl; 'and there are not many people besides me tha_ould have got out of their way in time to escape discovery. But I did; and _aw him no more till last night.'
  • 'And what occurred then?'
  • 'I'll tell you, lady. Last night he came again. Again they went upstairs, an_, wrapping myself up so that my shadow would not betray me, again listened a_he door. The first words I heard Monks say were these: "So the only proofs o_he boy's identity lie at the bottom of the river, and the old hag tha_eceived them from the mother is rotting in her coffin." They laughed, an_alked of his success in doing this; and Monks, talking on about the boy, an_etting very wild, said that though he had got the young devil's money safel_ow, he'd rather have had it the other way; for, what a game it would hav_een to have brought down the boast of the father's will, by driving hi_hrough every jail in town, and then hauling him up for some capital felon_hich Fagin could easily manage, after having made a good profit of hi_esides.'
  • 'What is all this!' said Rose.
  • 'The truth, lady, though it comes from my lips,' replied the girl. 'Then, h_aid, with oaths common enough in my ears, but strange to yours, that if h_ould gratify his hatred by taking the boy's life without bringing his ow_eck in danger, he would; but, as he couldn't, he'd be upon the watch to mee_im at every turn in life; and if he took advantage of his birth and history, he might harm him yet. "In short, Fagin," he says, "Jew as you are, you neve_aid such snares as I'll contrive for my young brother, Oliver."'
  • 'His brother!' exclaimed Rose.
  • 'Those were his words,' said Nancy, glancing uneasily round, as she ha_carcely ceased to do, since she began to speak, for a vision of Sikes haunte_er perpetually. 'And more. When he spoke of you and the other lady, and sai_t seemed contrived by Heaven, or the devil, against him, that Oliver shoul_ome into your hands, he laughed, and said there was some comfort in that too, for how many thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds would you not give, if you had them, to know who your two-legged spaniel was.'
  • 'You do not mean,' said Rose, turning very pale, 'to tell me that this wa_aid in earnest?'
  • 'He spoke in hard and angry earnest, if a man ever did,' replied the girl, shaking her head. 'He is an earnest man when his hatred is up. I know many wh_o worse things; but I'd rather listen to them all a dozen times, than to tha_onks once. It is growing late, and I have to reach home without suspicion o_aving been on such an errand as this. I must get back quickly.'
  • 'But what can I do?' said Rose. 'To what use can I turn this communicatio_ithout you? Back! Why do you wish to return to companions you paint in suc_errible colors? If you repeat this information to a gentleman whom I ca_ummon in an instant from the next room, you can be consigned to some place o_afety without half an hour's delay.'
  • 'I wish to go back,' said the girl. 'I must go back, because—how can I tel_uch things to an innocent lady like you?—because among the men I have tol_ou of, there is one: the most desperate among them all; that I can't leave: no, not even to be saved from the life I am leading now.'
  • 'Your having interfered in this dear boy's behalf before,' said Rose; 'you_oming here, at so great a risk, to tell me what you have heard; your manner, which convinces me of the truth of what you say; your evident contrition, an_ense of shame; all lead me to believe that you might yet be reclaimed. Oh!'
  • said the earnest girl, folding her hands as the tears coursed down her face,
  • 'do not turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of one of your own sex; th_irst—the first, I do believe, who ever appealed to you in the voice of pit_nd compassion. Do hear my words, and let me save you yet, for better things.'
  • 'Lady,' cried the girl, sinking on her knees, 'dear, sweet, angel lady, yo_are_ the first that ever blessed me with such words as these, and if I ha_eard them years ago, they might have turned me from a life of sin and sorrow; but it is too late, it is too late!'
  • 'It is never too late,' said Rose, 'for penitence and atonement.'
  • 'It is,' cried the girl, writhing in agony of her mind; 'I cannot leave hi_ow! I could not be his death.'
  • 'Why should you be?' asked Rose.
  • 'Nothing could save him,' cried the girl. 'If I told others what I have tol_ou, and led to their being taken, he would be sure to die. He is the boldest, and has been so cruel!'
  • 'Is it possible,' cried Rose, 'that for such a man as this, you can resig_very future hope, and the certainty of immediate rescue? It is madness.'
  • 'I don't know what it is,' answered the girl; 'I only know that it is so, an_ot with me alone, but with hundreds of others as bad and wretched as myself.
  • I must go back. Whether it is God's wrath for the wrong I have done, I do no_now; but I am drawn back to him through every suffering and ill usage; and _hould be, I believe, if I knew that I was to die by his hand at last.'
  • 'What am I to do?' said Rose. 'I should not let you depart from me thus.'
  • 'You should, lady, and I know you will,' rejoined the girl, rising. 'You wil_ot stop my going because I have trusted in your goodness, and forced n_romise from you, as I might have done.'
  • 'Of what use, then, is the communication you have made?' said Rose. 'Thi_ystery must be investigated, or how will its disclosure to me, benefi_liver, whom you are anxious to serve?'
  • 'You must have some kind gentleman about you that will hear it as a secret, and advise you what to do,' rejoined the girl.
  • 'But where can I find you again when it is necessary?' asked Rose. 'I do no_eek to know where these dreadful people live, but where will you be walkin_r passing at any settled period from this time?'
  • 'Will you promise me that you will have my secret strictly kept, and com_lone, or with the only other person that knows it; and that I shall not b_atched or followed?' asked the girl.
  • 'I promise you solemnly,' answered Rose.
  • 'Every Sunday night, from eleven until the clock strikes twelve,' said th_irl without hesitation, 'I will walk on London Bridge if I am alive.'
  • 'Stay another moment,' interposed Rose, as the girl moved hurriedly toward_he door. 'Think once again on your own condition, and the opportunity yo_ave of escaping from it. You have a claim on me: not only as the voluntar_earer of this intelligence, but as a woman lost almost beyond redemption.
  • Will you return to this gang of robbers, and to this man, when a word can sav_ou? What fascination is it that can take you back, and make you cling t_ickedness and misery? Oh! is there no chord in your heart that I can touch!
  • Is there nothing left, to which I can appeal against this terribl_nfatuation!'
  • 'When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are,' replied the gir_teadily, 'give away your hearts, love will carry you all lengths—even such a_ou, who have home, friends, other admirers, everything, to fill them. Whe_uch as I, who have no certain roof but the coffinlid, and no friend i_ickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that has been a blank through all our wretche_ives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady—pity us for having only on_eeling of the woman left, and for having that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and a pride, into a new means of violence and suffering.'
  • 'You will,' said Rose, after a pause, 'take some money from me, which ma_nable you to live without dishonesty—at all events until we meet again?'
  • 'Not a penny,' replied the girl, waving her hand.
  • 'Do not close your heart against all my efforts to help you,' said Rose, stepping gently forward. 'I wish to serve you indeed.'
  • 'You would serve me best, lady,' replied the girl, wringing her hands, 'if yo_ould take my life at once; for I have felt more grief to think of what I am, to-night, than I ever did before, and it would be something not to die in th_ell in which I have lived. God bless you, sweet lady, and send as muc_appiness on your head as I have brought shame on mine!'
  • Thus speaking, and sobbing aloud, the unhappy creature turned away; while Ros_aylie, overpowered by this extraordinary interview, which had more th_emblance of a rapid dream than an actual occurrence, sank into a chair, an_ndeavoured to collect her wandering thoughts.