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Adept as she was, in all the arts of cunning and dissimulation, the girl Nancy could not wholly conceal the effect which the knowledge of the step she had taken, wrought upon her mind.

She remembered that both the crafty Jew and the brutal Sikes had confided to her schemes, which had been hidden from all others: in the full confidence that she was trustworthy and beyond the reach of their suspicion.

Vile as those schemes were, desperate as were their originators, and bitter as were her feelings towards Fagin, who had led her, step by step, deeper and deeper down into an abyss of crime and misery, whence was no escape; still, there were times when, even towards him, she felt some relenting, lest her disclosure should bring him within the iron grasp he had so long eluded, and he should fall at last--richly as he merited such a fate--by her hand. But, these were the mere wanderings of a mind unable wholly to detach itself from old companions and associations, though enabled to fix itself steadily on one object, and resolved not to be turned aside by any consideration.

Her fears for Sikes would have been more powerful inducements to recoil while there was yet time; but she had stipulated that her secret should be rigidly kept, she had dropped no clue which could lead to his discovery, she had refused, even for his sake, a refuge from all the guilt and wretchedness that encompasses her--and what more could she do! She was resolved. Though all her mental struggles terminated in this conclusion, they forced themselves upon her, again and again, and left their traces too.

She grew pale and thin, even within a few days.

At times, she took no heed of what was passing before her, or no part in conversations where once, she would have been the loudest.

At other times, she laughed without merriment, and was noisy without a moment afterwards--she sat silent and dejected, brooding with her head upon her hands, while the very effort by which she roused herself, told, more forcibly than even these indications, that she was ill at ease, and that her thoughts were occupied with matters very different and distant from those in the course of discussion by her companions. It was Sunday night, and the bell of the nearest church struck the hour.

Sikes and the Jew were talking, but they paused to listen.

The girl looked up from the low seat on which she crouched, and listened too.

Eleven. 'An hour this side of midnight,' said Sikes, raising the blind to look out and returning to his seat.

'Dark and heavy it is too. A good night for business this.' 'Ah!' replied Fagin.

'What a pity, Bill, my dear, that there's none quite ready to be done.' 'You're right for once,' replied Sikes gruffly.

'It is a pity, for I'm in the humour too.' Fagin sighed, and shook his head despondingly. 'We must make up for lost time when we've got things into a good train.

That's all I know,' said Sikes. 'That's the way to talk, my dear,' replied Fagin, venturing to pat him on the shoulder.

'It does me good to hear you.' 'Does you good, does it!' cried Sikes.

'Well, so be it.' 'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Fagin, as if he were relieved by even this concession.

'You're like yourself to-night, Bill.

Quite like yourself.' 'I don't feel like myself when you lay that withered old claw on my shoulder, so take it away,' said Sikes, casting off the Jew's hand. 'It make you nervous, Bill,--reminds you of being nabbed, does it?' said Fagin, determined not to be offended. 'Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil,' returned Sikes. 'There never was another man with such a face as yours, unless it was your father, and I suppose _he_ is singeing his grizzled red beard by this time, unless you came straight from the old 'un without any father at all betwixt you; which I shouldn't wonder at, a bit.' Fagin offered no reply to this compliment:

but, pulling Sikes by the sleeve, pointed his finger towards Nancy, who had taken advantage of the foregoing conversation to put on her bonnet, and was now leaving the room. 'Hallo!' cried Sikes.

'Nance.

Where's the gal going to at this time of night?' 'Not far.' 'What answer's that?' retorted Sikes.

'Do you hear me?' 'I don't know where,' replied the girl. 'Then I do,' said Sikes, more in the spirit of obstinacy than because he had any real objection to the girl going where she listed.

'Nowhere.

Sit down.' 'I'm not well.

I told you that before,' rejoined the girl.

'I want a breath of air.' 'Put your head out of the winder,' replied Sikes. 'There's not enough there,' said the girl.

'I want it in the street.' 'Then you won't have it,' replied Sikes.

With which assurance he rose, locked the door, took the key out, and pulling her bonnet from her head, flung it up to the top of an old press.

'There,' said the robber.

'Now stop quietly where you are, will you?' 'It's not such a matter as a bonnet would keep me,' said the girl turning very pale.

'What do you mean, Bill?

Do you know what you're doing?' 'Know what I'm--Oh!' cried Sikes, turning to Fagin, 'she's out of her senses, you know, or she daren't talk to me in that way.' 'You'll drive me on the something desperate,' muttered the girl placing both hands upon her breast, as though to keep down by force some violent outbreak.

'Let me go, will you,--this minute--this instant.' 'No!' said Sikes. 'Tell him to let me go, Fagin.

He had better.

It'll be better for him.

Do you hear me?' cried Nancy stamping her foot upon the ground. 'Hear you!' repeated Sikes turning round in his chair to confront her.

'Aye!

And if I hear you for half a minute longer, the dog shall have such a grip on your throat as'll tear some of that screaming voice out.

Wot has come over you, you jade!

Wot is it?' 'Let me go,' said the girl with great earnestness; then sitting herself down on the floor, before the door, she said, 'Bill, let me go; you don't know what you are doing. You don't, indeed.

For only one hour--do--do!' 'Cut my limbs off one by one!' cried Sikes, seizing her roughly by the arm, 'If I don't think the gal's stark raving mad.

Get up.' 'Not till you let me go--not till you let me go--Never--never!' screamed the girl.

Sikes looked on, for a minute, watching his opportunity, and suddenly pinioning her hands dragged her, struggling and wrestling with him by the way, into a small room adjoining, where he sat himself on a bench, and thrusting her into a chair, held her down by force.

She struggled and implored by turns until twelve o'clock had struck, and then, wearied and exhausted, ceased to contest the point any further.

With a caution, backed by many oaths, to make no more efforts to go out that night, Sikes left her to recover at leisure and rejoined Fagin. 'Whew!' said the housebreaker wiping the perspiration from his face.

'Wot a precious strange gal that is!' 'You may say that, Bill,' replied Fagin thoughtfully.

'You may say that.' 'Wot did she take it into her head to go out to-night for, do you think?' asked Sikes.

'Come; you should know her better than me. Wot does it mean?' 'Obstinacy; woman's obstinacy, I suppose, my dear.' 'Well, I suppose it is,' growled Sikes.

'I thought I had tamed her, but she's as bad as ever.' 'Worse,' said Fagin thoughtfully.

'I never knew her like this, for such a little cause.' 'Nor I,' said Sikes.

'I think she's got a touch of that fever in her blood yet, and it won't come out--eh?' 'Like enough.' 'I'll let her a little blood, without troubling the doctor, if she's took that way again,' said Sikes. Fagin nodded an expressive approval of this mode of treatment. 'She was hanging about me all day, and night too, when I was stretched on my back; and you, like a blackhearted wolf as you are, kept yourself aloof,' said Sikes.

'We was poor too, all the time, and I think, one way or other, it's worried and fretted her; and that being shut up here so long has made her restless--eh?' 'That's it, my dear,' replied the Jew in a whisper.

'Hush!' As he uttered these words, the girl herself appeared and resumed her former seat.

Her eyes were swollen and red; she rocked herself to and fro; tossed her head; and, after a little time, burst out laughing. 'Why, now she's on the other tack!' exclaimed Sikes, turning a look of excessive surprise on his companion. Fagin nodded to him to take no further notice just then; and, in a few minutes, the girl subsided into her accustomed demeanour. Whispering Sikes that there was no fear of her relapsing, Fagin took up his hat and bade him good-night.

He paused when he reached the room-door, and looking round, asked if somebody would light him down the dark stairs. 'Light him down,' said Sikes, who was filling his pipe. 'It's a pity he should break his neck himself, and disappoint the sight-seers.

Show him a light.' Nancy followed the old man downstairs, with a candle.

When they reached the passage, he laid his finger on his lip, and drawing close to the girl, said, in a whisper. 'What is it, Nancy, dear?' 'What do you mean?' replied the girl, in the same tone. 'The reason of all this,' replied Fagin.

'If _he_'--he pointed with his skinny fore-finger up the stairs--'is so hard with you (he's a brute, Nance, a brute-beast), why don't you--' 'Well?' said the girl, as Fagin paused, with his mouth almost touching her ear, and his eyes looking into hers. 'No matter just now.

We'll talk of this again.

You have a friend in me, Nance; a staunch friend.

I have the means at hand, quiet and close.

If you want revenge on those that treat you like a dog--like a dog!

worse than his dog, for he humours him sometimes--come to me.

I say, come to me.

He is the mere hound of a day, but you know me of old, Nance.' 'I know you well,' replied the girl, without manifesting the least emotion.

'Good-night.' She shrank back, as Fagin offered to lay his hand on hers, but said good-night again, in a steady voice, and, answering his parting look with a nod of intelligence, closed the door between them. Fagin walked towards his home, intent upon the thoughts that were working within his brain.

He had conceived the idea--not from what had just passed though that had tended to confirm him, but slowly and by degrees--that Nancy, wearied of the housebreaker's brutality, had conceived an attachment for some new friend.

Her altered manner, her repeated absences from home alone, her comparative indifference to the interests of the gang for which she had once been so zealous, and, added to these, her desperate impatience to leave home that night at a particular hour, all favoured the supposition, and rendered it, to him at least, almost matter of certainty.

The object of this new liking was not among his myrmidons.

He would be a valuable acquisition with such an assistant as Nancy, and must (thus Fagin argued) be secured without delay. There was another, and a darker object, to be gained.

Sikes knew too much, and his ruffian taunts had not galled Fagin the less, because the wounds were hidden.

The girl must know, well, that if she shook him off, she could never be safe from his fury, and that it would be surely wreaked--to the maiming of limbs, or perhaps the loss of life--on the object of her more recent fancy. 'With a little persuasion,' thought Fagin, 'what more likely than that she would consent to poison him?

Women have done such things, and worse, to secure the same object before now.

There would be the dangerous villain:

the man I hate:

gone; another secured in his place; and my influence over the girl, with a knowledge of this crime to back it, unlimited.' These things passed through the mind of Fagin, during the short time he sat alone, in the housebreaker's room; and with them uppermost in his thoughts, he had taken the opportunity afterwards afforded him, of sounding the girl in the broken hints he threw out at parting.

There was no expression of surprise, no assumption of an inability to understand his meaning.

The girl clearly comprehended it.

Her glance at parting showed _that_. But perhaps she would recoil from a plot to take the life of Sikes, and that was one of the chief ends to be attained. 'How,' thought Fagin, as he crept homeward, 'can I increase my influence with her?

What new power can I acquire?' Such brains are fertile in expedients.

If, without extracting a confession from herself, he laid a watch, discovered the object of her altered regard, and threatened to reveal the whole history to Sikes (of whom she stood in no common fear) unless she entered into his designs, could he not secure her compliance? 'I can,' said Fagin, almost aloud.

'She durst not refuse me then.

Not for her life, not for her life!

I have it all.

The means are ready, and shall be set to work.

I shall have you yet!' He cast back a dark look, and a threatening motion of the hand, towards the spot where he had left the bolder villain; and went on his way:

busying his bony hands in the folds of his tattered garment, which he wrenched tightly in his grasp, as though there were a hated enemy crushed with every motion of his fingers.

(到了向露丝·梅莱履行诺言的时候,南希却无法前往。)

南希姑娘虽然对耍猾做假的全套功夫十分娴熟,却也很难完全隐瞒迈出这一步在她心中产生的影响。她记得,不管是诡计多端的老犹太,还是残忍无情的赛克斯,他们的那些诡计对其他人只字不提,在她面前却毫不隐瞒,两个人完全相信她是靠得住的,根本不会怀疑到她头上。尽管这些诡计十分奸诈,策划者胆大包天,尽管她对老犹太深恶痛绝,是他一步一步领着自己,在罪恶与不幸的深渊中越陷越深,难以自拔,然而有的时候,即便是对于他,南希仍然感到有些于心不忍,怕自己泄露出去的事会使他落入他躲避了那么久的铁拳,并且最终会栽在自己手里——虽说他完全是罪有应得。

然而,这些仅仅是心灵上的动摇,虽然她无法与多年来的伙伴一刀两断,但还是能够抱定一个目标,决不因为任何顾虑而回心转意。她放心不下的是赛克斯,这一点本来更有可能诱使她在最后一分钟退缩变卦,但她已经得到人家会为她严守秘密的保证,也没有泄漏可能导致他落入法网的任何线索,为了他的缘故,甚至拒绝从包围着她的所有罪恶和苦难中逃出来——她还能怎么样呢?她已经横下一条心。

尽管内心的斗争都以这样的结果告终,但它们依然一次又一次向她袭来,并且在她身上留下了痕迹。不出几天,她就变得苍白而又消瘦。她时常对面前发生的事毫不理会,或者根本不介人众人的谈话,而过去她在这类谈话中嗓门比谁都大。有的时候,她干巴巴地发出一阵笑声,无缘无故或者说毫无意义地大闹一通。可往往刹那之间,她又无精精打采地坐了下来,手支着脑袋沉思默想。她有时也想尽力振作起来,但这种努力甚至比这些征兆更能说明她心神不定,她所想的和同伴们正在商量的根本不是一回事。

星期天夜里,附近教堂的钟声开始报时。赛克斯与老犹太在聊天,却还是停下来谛听着。南希姑娘蜷缩着身子坐在一个矮凳上,她也抬起头来,听了听。十一点。

“离半夜还有一个钟头,”赛克斯拉起窗板看了看外边,又回到座位上,说道。“天又黑又问,今儿晚上做买卖真是没得说。”

“啊。”费金回答,“真可惜,亲爱的比尔,我们连一笔可以做的现成买卖都没有。”

“你算是说对了一回,”赛克斯绷着脸说,“确实可惜啊,我也有点这种感觉。”

费金叹了口气,沮丧地摇了摇头。

“等我们把事情好好排个队,非得把丢掉的时光补回来不可。我就知道这个。”

“说得可也是,亲爱的,”费金一边回答,一边大着胆子拍了拍他的肩膀。“听你这么一说,我就放心了。”

“你放心了。”赛克斯嚷嚷着,“得了,就这样吧。”

“哈哈哈!”费金大笑起来,好像这一点点让步也使他感到欣慰。“你今儿晚上像你自个儿了,比尔,这才像你自个嘛。”

“干什么,你那只皱巴巴的老爪子搁在我胳膊上,我可没觉得像我自己,你给我拿开。”赛克斯说着,撂开老犹太的手。

“这会弄得你神经紧张,比尔——让你觉得给人逮住了,是不是啊?”费金决定不生气,说道。

“让我觉得给魔鬼逮住了,”赛克斯回敬道,“像你这副嘴脸,压根找不出第二个,除了你爹,这功夫他没准正在烧他那带点花白的红胡子,要不就是你根本没个爹,直接就从魔鬼那儿来了——我才不觉得这有什么好奇怪的。”

费金对这一番恭维没有回答,只是扯了一下赛克斯的衣袖,用手指朝南希指去,她借前边那番谈话的机会戴上软帽,正要离开房间。

“哈罗。”赛克斯大声地说,“南希,晚上都这功夫了,小丫头还要上哪儿去啊?”

“没多远。”

“这叫什么话?”赛克斯问道,“你上什么地方去?”

“我说了,没有多远。”

“我问的是什么地方?”赛克斯钉得很紧,“我的话你听见没有?”

“我不知道什么地方。”姑娘回答。

“你不知道我知道,”赛克斯这样说主要是出于固执,倒也不是真有什么原因反对南希姑娘去她一心想去的地方。“哪儿也别去。坐下。”

“我不舒服,我先前跟你讲过的,”姑娘答道,“我想吹吹凉风。”

“你把脑袋从窗户里伸出去不就得了。”赛克斯回答。

“这哪儿够,”姑娘说道,“我要上街。”

“那你休想出去。”赛克斯一口拒绝,站起来锁上房门,抽出钥匙,又扯下她头上的软帽,扔到一只旧衣柜顶上。“行了,”那强盗说,“眼下就安安静静呆在老地方吧,好不好?”

“一顶软帽,多大一回事,还想留住我?”姑娘脸色一片煞白。“你是什么意思,比尔?你知不知道你在干什么?”

“知不知道我在——噢!”赛克斯大声嚷嚷着转向费金。“她疯了,你知道,要不然绝不敢这样跟我说话。”

“你是要把我逼上绝路啊,”姑娘双手按在胸脯上,似乎想竭力压住满腔怒火,喃喃地说。“你放我出去,听见没有——现在——马上——”

“不行!”赛克斯说道。

“告诉他,放我出去,费金,他最好是放我出去,这对他有好处,听见没有?”南希大喊大叫,一边用脚踩着地板。

“听见没有!”赛克斯在椅子上转了个身,面朝着她。“行啊!我要是过半分钟还听见你在说话,狗就会一日咬住你脖子,看你还能不能这样尖声嚷嚷。真是见鬼了你,贱货。怎么回事?”

“让我出去,”姑娘一本正经地说,随后便在门边的地板上坐下来,说道。“比尔,让我出去吧。你不明白自己在干什么,你不明白,真的。只要一个钟头——就够了——就够了!”

“胡说八道,这小娘们要是还没疯得没个底,我敢把我的手脚一只一只割下来。”赛克斯吼叫着,粗暴地抓住她的胳膊。“起来。”

“除非你让我出去——除非你让我出去——就不起来——就不起来!”姑娘尖叫着。赛克斯看了一会儿,瞅准机会突然扼住她的双手,任凭她挣扎扭打,把她拖进隔壁小屋,推到一把椅子上,用力按住,自己在一张长凳上坐下来。她轮番挣扎,哀求,直到钟敲十二点,她折腾得筋疲力尽,这才不再坚持原来的要求。赛克斯警告了一声,又加了一通诅咒,要她当晚别再打算出去,便扔下她去慢慢缓过劲来,自己回到费金那儿。

“哎呀。”这个专门入室抢劫的家伙擦了擦脸上的汗水,说道。“真是个稀奇古怪的小娘们。”

“你可以这么说,比尔,”费金若有所思地答道,“你可以这么说。”

“她干吗想起来今儿晚上要出去,你知道不知道?”赛克斯问,“对了,照道理你比我了解她,这到底是怎么回事?”

“固执,我想是女人的固执,亲爱的。”

“对啊,我想也是,”赛克斯咕哝着,“我还以为把她调教好了呢,敢情还是照样可恶。”

“更可恶了,”费金依旧是一副若有所思的样子,“我压根儿没想到她会这样,为了一点小事。”

“我也没想到,”赛克斯说道,“恐怕她血里是沾上了一点热病的病根,出不来了——唔?”

“很有点像。”’

“她要是再这样闹腾,我就给她放点血,用不着麻烦大夫。”赛克斯说。

费金点点头,对这种疗法表示赞同。

“那些日子,我起不来床,她没日没夜守在我身边,而你,就跟一头黑心狼似的,老是躲得远远的,”赛克斯说道,“我们那一向也太寒伧了点,这样那样的,搞得她又着急又心烦,而且她在这儿关了那么久,也有点坐不住了——唔?”

“是啊,亲爱的,”老犹太低声答道,“别说了。”

他刚说出这句话,南希姑娘便出来了,她回到先前的座位上,两只眼睛又红又肿,身子左右摇晃,脑袋昂起,过了一会儿,她忽然放声大笑。

“哟,她现在又换了一个花样。”赛克斯大叫起来,惊愕地看了同伴一眼。

费金点点头,示意赛克斯暂时不要理她。过了几分钟,姑娘恢复了平时的样子。费金咬着赛克斯的耳朵说,不用担心她发病了,然后拿起帽子,和他道了晚安。他走到房间门口,又停住了,回头看看,问有没有人愿意替他下楼的时候照照亮,因为楼梯上一片漆黑。

“替他照个亮,让他下去。”赛克斯正在装烟斗,说道,“他要是把自个儿脖子摔断了,让那班看热闹的落个一场空才叫可惜哩。替他照个亮。”

南希擎着蜡烛,跟在老头儿身后走下楼来。到了走廊里,他将一根指头接在嘴唇上,靠近姑娘身边,低声说道:

“南希,怎么回事啊,亲爱的?”

“你是什么意思?”姑娘同样低声答道。

“所有这一切总有个原因,”费金回答,“既然他,”——他用瘦仃仃的食指朝楼上指了指——“对你这么刻薄(他是一个畜生,南希,畜生加野兽),你干吗不——”

“哦!”姑娘叫了一声,费金骤然打住,嘴巴差一点没碰着她的耳朵,双眼逼视着她的眼睛。

“眼下不提了,”老犹太说道,“我们以后再商量。你可以把我当朋友,南希,一个可靠的朋友。我手头有的是办法,又稳当又秘密。你要是想报仇,就是为他把你和狗一样看待的那些事报仇——和狗一样!连他的狗都不如,他有时候还同狗闹着玩呢——你来找我好了。我是说,你尽管来找我。他跟你交往日子不长,你我可是老朋友了,南希。”

“我很了解你,”姑娘回答,连最起码的感动也没有表示。“再见。”

费金想跟她握握手,她往后退去,又用镇定的声音说了一声再见,对于他临别的一瞥,她会意地点了点头,便把门关上了。

费金朝自己的住处走去,一门心思全用在脑子里那些进进出出的鬼点子上头。他已经看出——这个念头是缓慢地一步一步形成的,而不是根据刚才的一幕,尽管这事为他提供了佐证——南希不堪忍受那个强盗的粗暴对待,打算另寻新欢。她近来神色大变,常常单独外出,以前她对团伙的利益那样热心,现在似乎变得相当冷漠,加上她不顾死活,急着要在当晚一个特定的时间出门,凡此种种都有助于证实这个推测,至少在他看来,这几乎成了十拿九稳的事。她新结识的那位相好不在他那班忠心耿耿的部下当中。加上南希这样一个帮手,此人完全可能成为一株非常宝贵的摇钱树,必须(费金如此这般地论证着)毫不拖延地弄到手。

还有一个目的,一个更为阴险的目的必须达到。赛克斯知道的事太多了,他那些恶言冷语给费金造成的伤害虽然看不见,但产生的刻骨仇恨并没有因此而减轻。那姑娘必须懂得,就是说,即使能够把赛克斯给甩了,她也绝对躲不过他的疯狂报复,这口气肯定会出在她最近认识的相好头上——弄个肢体残废,没准儿还得送命。“只要劝说一番,”费金思忖道,“她会不答应给他下点毒药?为了达到相同的目的,以前就有娘们干过这种事,甚至比这更辣手的也有。活该这个危险的家伙完蛋了,我讨厌这家伙,以后他的位置会有人来填的。那姑娘干了杀人勾当,把柄攥在我手里,往后怎么摆布她还不得由着我。”

费金刚才独自坐在那个强盗的房间里,在那个短暂的间隔,这些事情从他脑海里掠过。他对这些事看得很重,临走的时候又趁机用一些断断续续的暗示向南希试探过了,那姑娘没有一点惊奇的表情,也没有佯装不懂他的意思。姑娘显然已经心领神会,这从她临别的眼神看得出来。

可是,一个谋害赛克斯性命的计划也许会把她吓得缩回去,而这正是必须达到的主要目的之一。“我怎么才能增加对她的影响呢?”费金蹑手蹑脚地往家里走,一路都在盘算。“怎么才能再加一把力?”

这样的脑袋瓜真可以称得上足智多谋。就算不逼她自己说出来,他也可以设一个暗探,找到她刚换的心上人,然后扬言要把这事统统告诉赛克斯(她对赛克斯怕得不得了),除非她参与自己的计划,还愁她不答应?

“我有办法,”费金险些儿高声说了出来,“到时候她不敢不由着我,又不是要她的命,又不是要她的命。我有绝对的把握。办法都是现成的,立马就可以见效。你反正逃不出我的手心。”

他扭过头,恶狠狠地看了一眼自己丢下那个冒失家伙的地点,做了一个恐吓的手势,又继续赶路,枯瘦的双手忙个不停,使劲拧他那件破烂不堪的外衣褶缝,仿佛手指的每一个动作都是在把一个可恨的仇敌碾成齑粉。