Chapter 59

The plots begin to fail, and doubts and dangers to disturb the plotter

RALPH SAT ALONE, in the solitary room where he was accustomed to take his meals, and to sit of nights when no profitable occupation called him abroad. Before him was an untasted breakfast, and near to where his fingers beat restlessly upon the table, lay his watch. It was long past the time at which, for many years, he had put it in his pocket and gone with measured steps downstairs to the business of the day, but he took as little heed of its monotonous warning, as of the meat and drink before him, and remained with his head resting on one hand, and his eyes fixed moodily on the ground.

This departure from his regular and constant habit, in one so regular and unvarying in all that appertained to the daily pursuit of riches, would almost of itself have told that the usurer was not well. That he laboured under some mental or bodily indisposition, and that it was one of no slight kind so to affect a man like him, was sufficiently shown by his haggard face, jaded air, and hollow languid eyes: which he raised at last with a start and a hasty glance around him, as one who suddenly awakes from sleep, and cannot immediately recognise the place in which he finds himself.

`What is this,' he said, `that hangs over me, and I cannot shake off? I have never pampered myself, and should not be ill. I have never moped, and pined, and yielded to fancies; but what can a man do without rest?'

He pressed his hand upon his forehead.

`Night after night comes and goes, and I have no rest. If I sleep, what rest is that which is disturbed by constant dreams of the same detested faces crowding round me of the same detested people, in every variety of action, mingling with all I say and do, and always to my defeat? Waking, what rest have I, constantly haunted by this heavy shadow of--I know not what--which is its worst character? I must have rest. One night's unbroken rest, and I should be a man again.'

Pushing the table from him while he spoke, as though he loathed the sight of food, he encountered the watch: the hands of which were almost upon noon.

`This is strange!' he said; `noon, and Noggs not here! What drunken brawl keeps him away? I would give something now--something in money even after that dreadful loss--if he had stabbed a man in a tavern scuffle, or broken into a house, or picked a pocket, or done anything that would send him abroad with an iron ring upon his leg, and rid me of him. Better still, if I could throw temptation in his way, and lure him on to rob me. He should be welcome to what he took, so I brought the law upon him; for he is a traitor, I swear! How, or when, or where, I don't know, though I suspect.'

After waiting for another half-hour, he dispatched the woman who kept his house to Newman's lodging, to inquire if he were ill, and why he had not come or sent. She brought back answer that he had not been home all night, and that no one could tell her anything about him.

`But there is a gentleman, sir,' she said, `below, who was standing at the door when I came in, and he says--'

`What says he?' demanded Ralph, turning angrily upon her. `I told you I would see nobody.'

`He says,' replied the woman, abashed by his harshness, `that he comes on very particular business which admits of no excuse; and I thought perhaps it might be about--'

`About what, in the devil's name?' said Ralph. `You spy and speculate on people's business with me, do you?'

`Dear, no, sir! I saw you were anxious, and thought it might be about Mr Noggs; that's all.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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