'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?'
'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.'