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,
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.