The horror-stricken witness of this scene pressed his hands upon his ears, and with his eyes closed got up and paced violently to and fro, like one distracted.
While he was thus engaged, and the two men sat by in silence with their eyes fixed upon the floor, a pattering noise was heard upon the stairs, and Sikes's dog bounded into the room. They ran to the window, downstairs, and into the street. The dog had jumped in at an open window; he made no attempt to follow them, nor was his master to be seen.
'What's the meaning of this?' said Toby when they had returned. 'He can't be coming here. I — I — hope not.'
'If he was coming here, he'd have come with the dog,' said Kags, stooping down to examine the animal, who lay panting on the floor. 'Here! Give us some water for him; he has run himself faint.'
'He's drunk it all up, every drop,' said Chitling after watching the dog some time in silence. 'Covered with mud — lame — half blind — he must have come a long way.'
'Where can he have come from!' exclaimed Toby. 'He's been to the other kens of course, and finding them filled with strangers come on here, where he's been many a time and often. But where can he have come from first, and how comes he here alone without the other!'
'He' — (none of them called the murderer by his old name) — 'He can't have made away with himself. What do you think?' said Chitling.
Toby shook his head.
'If he had,' said Kags, 'the dog 'ud want to lead us away to where he did it. No. I think he's got out of the country, and left the dog behind. He must have given him the slip somehow, or he wouldn't be so easy.'
This solution, appearing the most probable one, was adopted as the right; the dog, creeping under a chair, coiled himself up to sleep, without more notice from anybody.
It being now dark, the shutter was closed, and a candle lighted and placed upon the table. The terrible events of the last two days had made a deep impression on all three, increased by the danger and uncertainty of their own position. They drew their chairs closer together, starting at every sound. They spoke little, and that in whispers, and were as silent and awe-stricken as if the remains of the murdered woman lay in the next room.
They had sat thus, some time, when suddenly was heard a hurried knocking at the door below.
'Young Bates,' said Kags, looking angrily round, to check the fear he felt himself.
The knocking came again. No, it wasn't he. He never knocked like that.
Crackit went to the window, and shaking all over, drew in his head. There was no need to tell them who it was; his pale face was enough. The dog too was on the alert in an instant, and ran whining to the door.
'We must let him in,' he said, taking up the candle.
'Isn't there any help for it?' asked the other man in a hoarse voice.
'None. He must come in.'
'Don't leave us in the dark,' said Kags, taking down a candle from the chimney-piece, and lighting it, with such a trembling hand that the knocking was twice repeated before he had finished.
Crackit went down to the door, and returned followed by a man with the lower part of his face buried in a handkerchief, and another tied over his head under his hat. He drew them slowly off. Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days' growth, wasted flesh, short thick breath; it was the very ghost of Sikes.
He laid his hand upon a chair which stood in the middle of the room, but shuddering as he was about to drop into it, and seeming to glance over his shoulder, dragged it back close to the wall — as close as it would go — and ground it against it — and sat down.
Not a word had been exchanged. He looked from one to another in silence. If an eye were furtively raised and met his, it was instantly averted. When his hollow voice broke silence, they all three started. They seemed never to have heard its tones before.
'How came that dog here?' he asked.
'Alone. Three hours ago.'
'To-night's paper says that Fagin's took. Is it true, or a lie?'
They were silent again.
'Damn you all!' said Sikes, passing his hand across his forehead.
'Have you nothing to say to me?'
There was an uneasy movement among them, but nobody spoke.
'You that keep this house,' said Sikes, turning his face to Crackit, 'do you mean to sell me, or to let me lie here till this hunt is over?'
'You may stop here, if you think it safe,' returned the person addressed, after some hesitation.
Sikes carried his eyes slowly up the wall behind him: rather trying to turn his head than actually doing it: and said, 'Is — it — the body — is it buried?'
They shook their heads.
'Why isn't it!' he retorted with the same glance behind him. 'Wot do they keep such ugly things above the ground for? — Who's that knocking?'
Crackit intimated, by a motion of his hand as he left the room, that there was nothing to fear; and directly came back with Charley Bates behind him. Sikes sat opposite the door, so that the moment the boy entered the room he encountered his figure.
'Toby,' said the boy falling back, as Sikes turned his eyes towards him, 'why didn't you tell me this, downstairs?'
There had been something so tremendous in the shrinking off of the three, that the wretched man was willing to propitiate even this lad. Accordingly he nodded, and made as though he would shake hands with him.
'Let me go into some other room,' said the boy, retreating still farther.
'Charley!' said Sikes, stepping forward. 'Don't you — don't you know me?'
'Don't come nearer me,' answered the boy, still retreating, and looking, with horror in his eyes, upon the murderer's face. 'You monster!'
The man stopped half-way, and they looked at each other; but Sikes's eyes sunk gradually to the ground.
'Witness you three,' cried the boy shaking his clenched fist, and becoming more and more excited as he spoke. 'Witness you three — I'm not afraid of him — if they come here after him, I'll give him up; I will. I tell you out at once. He may kill me for it if he likes, or if he dares, but if I am here I'll give him up. I'd give him up if he was to be boiled alive. Murder! Help! If there's the pluck of a man among you three, you'll help me. Murder! Help! Down with him!'