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Chapter 30

  • At length the play came to an end, and Mr Isaac List rose the only winner. Ma_nd the landlord bore their losses with professional fortitude. Isaac pockete_is gains with the air of a man who had quite made up his mind to win, al_long, and was neither surprised nor pleased.
  • Nell's little purse was exhausted; but although it lay empty by his side, an_he other players had now risen from the table, the old man sat poring ove_he cards, dealing them as they had been dealt before, and turning up th_ifferent hands to see what each man would have held if they had still bee_laying. He was quite absorbed in this occupation, when the child drew nea_nd laid her hand upon his shoulder, telling him it was near midnight.
  • 'See the curse of poverty, Nell,' he said, pointing to the packs he had sprea_ut upon the table. 'If I could have gone on a little longer, only a littl_onger, the luck would have turned on my side. Yes, it's as plain as the mark_pon the cards. See here— and there—and here again.'
  • 'Put them away,' urged the child. 'Try to forget them.'
  • 'Try to forget them!' he rejoined, raising his haggard face to hers, an_egarding her with an incredulous stare. 'To forget them! How are we ever t_row rich if I forget them?'
  • The child could only shake her head.
  • 'No, no, Nell,' said the old man, patting her cheek; 'they must not b_orgotten. We must make amends for this as soon as we can. Patience—patience,
  • and we'll right thee yet, I promise thee. Lose to-day, win to-morrow. An_othing can be won without anxiety and care—nothing. Come, I am ready.'
  • 'Do you know what the time is?' said Mr Groves, who was smoking with hi_riends. 'Past twelve o'clock—'
  • '—And a rainy night,' added the stout man.
  • 'The Valiant Soldier, by James Groves. Good beds. Cheap entertainment for ma_nd beast,' said Mr Groves, quoting his sign-board. 'Half-past twelv_'clock.'
  • 'It's very late,' said the uneasy child. 'I wish we had gone before. What wil_hey think of us! It will be two o'clock by the time we get back. What woul_t cost, sir, if we stopped here?'
  • 'Two good beds, one-and-sixpence; supper and beer one shilling; total tw_hillings and sixpence,' replied the Valiant Soldier.
  • Now, Nell had still the piece of gold sewn in her dress; and when she came t_onsider the lateness of the hour, and the somnolent habits of Mrs Jarley, an_o imagine the state of consternation in which they would certainly throw tha_ood lady by knocking her up in the middle of the night—and when sh_eflected, on the other hand, that if they remained where they were, and ros_arly in the morning, they might get back before she awoke, and could plea_he violence of the storm by which they had been overtaken, as a good apolog_or their absence—she decided, after a great deal of hesitation, to remain.
  • She therefore took her grandfather aside, and telling him that she had stil_nough left to defray the cost of their lodging, proposed that they shoul_tay there for the night.
  • 'If I had had but that money before—If I had only known of it a few minute_go!' muttered the old man.
  • 'We will decide to stop here if you please,' said Nell, turning hastily to th_andlord.
  • 'I think that's prudent,' returned Mr Groves. 'You shall have your supper_irectly.'
  • Accordingly, when Mr Groves had smoked his pipe out, knocked out the ashes,
  • and placed it carefully in a corner of the fire-place, with the bow_ownwards, he brought in the bread and cheese, and beer, with many hig_ncomiums upon their excellence, and bade his guests fall to, and mak_hemselves at home. Nell and her grandfather ate sparingly, for both wer_ccupied with their own reflections; the other gentlemen, for whos_onstitutions beer was too weak and tame a liquid, consoled themselves wit_pirits and tobacco.
  • As they would leave the house very early in the morning, the child was anxiou_o pay for their entertainment before they retired to bed. But as she felt th_ecessity of concealing her little hoard from her grandfather, and had t_hange the piece of gold, she took it secretly from its place of concealment,
  • and embraced an opportunity of following the landlord when he went out of th_oom, and tendered it to him in the little bar.
  • 'Will you give me the change here, if you please?' said the child.
  • Mr James Groves was evidently surprised, and looked at the money, and rang it,
  • and looked at the child, and at the money again, as though he had a mind t_nquire how she came by it. The coin being genuine, however, and changed a_is house, he probably felt, like a wise landlord, that it was no business o_is. At any rate, he counted out the change, and gave it her. The child wa_eturning to the room where they had passed the evening, when she fancied sh_aw a figure just gliding in at the door. There was nothing but a long dar_assage between this door and the place where she had changed the money, and,
  • being very certain that no person had passed in or out while she stood there,
  • the thought struck her that she had been watched.
  • But by whom? When she re-entered the room, she found its inmates exactly a_he had left them. The stout fellow lay upon two chairs, resting his head o_is hand, and the squinting man reposed in a similar attitude on the opposit_ide of the table. Between them sat her grandfather, looking intently at th_inner with a kind of hungry admiration, and hanging upon his words as if h_ere some superior being. She was puzzled for a moment, and looked round t_ee if any else were there. No. Then she asked her grandfather in a whispe_hether anybody had left the room while she was absent. 'No,' he said,
  • 'nobody.'
  • It must have been her fancy then; and yet it was strange, that, withou_nything in her previous thoughts to lead to it, she should have imagined thi_igure so very distinctly. She was still wondering and thinking of it, when _irl came to light her to bed.
  • The old man took leave of the company at the same time, and they went u_tairs together. It was a great, rambling house, with dull corridors and wid_taircases which the flaring candles seemed to make more gloomy. She left he_randfather in his chamber, and followed her guide to another, which was a_he end of a passage, and approached by some half-dozen crazy steps. This wa_repared for her. The girl lingered a little while to talk, and tell he_rievances. She had not a good place, she said; the wages were low, and th_ork was hard. She was going to leave it in a fortnight; the child couldn'_ecommend her to another, she supposed? Instead she was afraid another woul_e difficult to get after living there, for the house had a very indifferen_haracter; there was far too much card-playing, and such like. She was ver_uch mistaken if some of the people who came there oftenest were quite a_onest as they might be, but she wouldn't have it known that she had said so,
  • for the world. Then there were some rambling allusions to a rejecte_weetheart, who had threatened to go a soldiering—a final promise of knockin_t the door early in the morning—and 'Good night.'
  • The child did not feel comfortable when she was left alone. She could not hel_hinking of the figure stealing through the passage down stairs; and what th_irl had said did not tend to reassure her. The men were very ill-looking.
  • They might get their living by robbing and murdering travellers. Who coul_ell?
  • Reasoning herself out of these fears, or losing sight of them for a littl_hile, there came the anxiety to which the adventures of the night gave rise.
  • Here was the old passion awakened again in her grandfather's breast, and t_hat further distraction it might tempt him Heaven only knew. What fears thei_bsence might have occasioned already! Persons might be seeking for them eve_hen. Would they be forgiven in the morning, or turned adrift again! Oh! wh_ad they stopped in that strange place? It would have been better, under an_ircumstances, to have gone on!
  • At last, sleep gradually stole upon her—a broken, fitful sleep, troubled b_reams of falling from high towers, and waking with a start and in grea_error. A deeper slumber followed this—and then—What! That figure in the room.
  • A figure was there. Yes, she had drawn up the blind to admit the light when i_hould be dawn, and there, between the foot of the bed and the dark casement,
  • it crouched and slunk along, groping its way with noiseless hands, an_tealing round the bed. She had no voice to cry for help, no power to move,
  • but lay still, watching it.
  • On it came—on, silently and stealthily, to the bed's head. The breath so nea_er pillow, that she shrunk back into it, lest those wandering hands shoul_ight upon her face. Back again it stole to the window—then turned its hea_owards her.
  • The dark form was a mere blot upon the lighter darkness of the room, but sh_aw the turning of the head, and felt and knew how the eyes looked and th_ars listened. There it remained, motionless as she. At length, still keepin_he face towards her, it busied its hands in something, and she heard th_hink of money.
  • Then, on it came again, silent and stealthy as before, and replacing th_arments it had taken from the bedside, dropped upon its hands and knees, an_rawled away. How slowly it seemed to move, now that she could hear but no_ee it, creeping along the floor! It reached the door at last, and stood upo_ts feet. The steps creaked beneath its noiseless tread, and it was gone.
  • The first impulse of the child was to fly from the terror of being by hersel_n that room—to have somebody by—not to be alone— and then her power of speec_ould be restored. With no consciousness of having moved, she gained the door.
  • There was the dreadful shadow, pausing at the bottom of the steps.
  • She could not pass it; she might have done so, perhaps, in the darknes_ithout being seized, but her blood curdled at the thought. The figure stoo_uite still, and so did she; not boldly, but of necessity; for going back int_he room was hardly less terrible than going on.
  • The rain beat fast and furiously without, and ran down in plashing stream_rom the thatched roof. Some summer insect, with no escape into the air, fle_lindly to and fro, beating its body against the walls and ceiling, an_illing the silent place with murmurs. The figure moved again. The chil_nvoluntarily did the same. Once in her grandfather's room, she would be safe.
  • It crept along the passage until it came to the very door she longed s_rdently to reach. The child, in the agony of being so near, had almost darte_orward with the design of bursting into the room and closing it behind her,
  • when the figure stopped again.
  • The idea flashed suddenly upon her—what if it entered there, and had a desig_pon the old man's life! She turned faint and sick. It did. It went in. Ther_as a light inside. The figure was now within the chamber, and she, stil_umb—quite dumb, and almost senseless—stood looking on.
  • The door was partly open. Not knowing what she meant to do, but meaning t_reserve him or be killed herself, she staggered forward and looked in.
  • What sight was that which met her view!
  • The bed had not been lain on, but was smooth and empty. And at a table sat th_ld man himself; the only living creature there; his white face pinched an_harpened by the greediness which made his eyes unnaturally bright—countin_he money of which his hands had robbed her.