Introduces some respectable characters with whom the reader is already acquainted, and shows how Monks and the Jew laid their worthy heads together.
On the evening following that upon which the three worthies mentioned in the last chapter, disposed of their little matter of business as therein narrated, Mr. William Sikes, awakening from a nap, drowsily growled forth an inquiry what time of night it was.
The room in which Mr. Sikes propounded this question, was not one of those he had tenanted, previous to the Chertsey expedition, although it was in the same quarter of the town, and was situated at no great distance from his former lodgings. It was not, in appearance, so desirable a habitation as his old quarters: being a mean and badly-furnished apartment, of very limited size; lighted only by one small window in the shelving roof, and abutting on a close and dirty lane. Nor were there wanting other indications of the good gentleman's having gone down in the world of late; for a great scarcity of furniture, and total absence of comfort, together with the disappearance of all such small moveables as spare clothes and linen, bespoke of a state of extreme poverty; while the meagre and attenuated condition of Mr. Sikes himself would have fully confirmed these symptoms, if they had stood in any need of corroboration.
The house-breaker was lying on the bed, wrapped in his white great-coat, by way of dressing-gown, and displaying a set of features in no degree improved by the cadaverous hue of illness, and the addition of a soiled nightcap, and a stiff, black beard of a week's growth. The dog sat at the bedside: now eying his master with a wistful look, and now pricking his ears, and uttering a low growl as some noise in the street, or in the lower part of the house, attracted his attention. Seated by the window, busily engaged in patching an old waistcoat which formed a portion of the robber's ordinary dress, was a female: so pale and reduced with watching and privation, that there would have been considerable difficulty in recognising her as the same Nancy who has already figured in this tale, but for the voice in which she replied to Mr. Sikes's question.
Not long gone seven, said the girl. How do you feel to-night, Bill?
As weak as water, replied Mr. Sikes, with an imprecation on his eyes and limbs. Here; lend us a hand, and let me get off this thundering bed anyhow.
Illness had not improved Mr. Sikes's temper; for, as the girl raised him up and led him to a chair, he muttered various curses on her awkwardness, and struck her.
Whining are you? said Sikes. Come! Don't stand snivelling there. If you can't do anything better than that, cut off altogether. D'ye hear me?
I hear you, replied the girl, turning her face aside, and forcing a laugh. What fancy have you got in your head now?
Oh! you've thought better of it, have you? growled Sikes, marking the tear which trembled in her eye. All the better for you, you have.
Why, you don't mean to say, you'd be hard upon me to-night, Bill, said the girl, laying her hand upon his shoulder.
No! cried Mr. Sikes. Why not?
Such a number of nights, said the girl, with a touch of woman's tenderness, which communicated something like sweetness of tone, even to her voice: such a number of nights as I've been patient with you, nursing and caring for you, as if you had been a child: and this the first that I've seen you like yourself; you wouldn't have served me as you did just now, if you'd thought of that, would you? Come, come; say you wouldn't.
Well, then, rejoined Mr. Sikes, I wouldn't. Why, damme, now, the girl's whining again!
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