فصل 11

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Nancy makes a visit

On the evening after the Bumbles’ little business meeting, Mr Bill Sikes, waking from a sleep, called out to ask the time.

The room he was lying in was very small and dirty. It was a different room from the one he had occupied before the Chertsey expedition, but it was in the same poor part of London. I here were so few possessions or comforts in the room that it was clear Mr Sikes had met hard times. He himself was thin and pale from illness, and was lying on the bed, wrapped in an old coat. The white dog lay on the floor next to him.

Seated by the window was Nancy, repairing Sikes’ old jacket. She, too, was thin and pale. At Sikes’ voice she raised her head from her work. ‘Not long past seven,’ she said. ‘How do you feel now. Bill?’

‘As weak as water. Help me get up, will you?’

As Nancy helped him out of bed, Sikes swore and cursed at her clumsiness. Illness had not improved his temper.

‘You wouldn’t speak like that if you knew how kindly I’ve nursed you these last few days,’ said Nancy. ‘So many nights, I’ve looked after von.’ She sat down in a chair, exhausted.

‘Get up!’ shouted Sikes. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

But Nancy was unable to get up. Her head fell back against the chair and she fainted.

Sikes swore and cursed again, but Nancy remained unconscious. ‘What’s the matter here?’ asked a voice from the door, and Fagin, followed by the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates, entered the room. When they saw Nancy, they hurried to help her. Charley rubbed her hands and the Dodger gave her a drink from the bottle he carried. Gradually, Nancy recovered her senses.

Sikes then turned to Fagin. ‘What are you here for?’ he asked roughly. ‘You haven’t been here for weeks - all the time I was ill. I haven’t two coins to rub together. Why didn’t you help me? You treat me worse than a dog!’

‘Don’t be bad-tempered, my dear,’ said Fagin calmly. ‘I haven’t forgotten you, Bill.’

‘Well, what about some money, then? I’ve done enough work for you recently - what about some money?’

‘I haven’t a single coin with me, my dear,’ said Fagin.

‘Then go and get some - you’ve got lots at home. No, I don’t trust you. Nancy can go back with you to your house and fetch some money. I’ll stay here and sleep.

After a good deal of arguing, Fagin managed to reduce the amount Sikes was demanding from five pounds to three pounds. He went back to his house with Nancy and the boys.

When they were inside, Fagin told the girl, ‘I’ll just go upstairs and fetch the cash for Bill, my dear. There’s little money in this business, Nancy, little money and no thanks - but I’m fond of seeing the young people around me.’

Suddenly there was a man’s voice at the front door. As soon as Nancy heard it, she sat up in her chair.

‘That’s the man I was expecting earlier,’ said Fagin. ‘Don’t worry. He’ll only be ten minutes.’

The man entered the room. It was Monks. When he saw Nancy, he moved back, as if he had expected no one but Fagin.

‘It’s all right, only one of my young people,’ Fagin said to him.

‘Did you see him?’

‘Yes,’ answered Monks.

‘Any news?’

‘Good news,’ said Monks with a smile. ‘Let me have a word with you.’ He and Fagin went upstairs to talk privately.

As soon as they had left the room, Nancy took off her shoes and crept silently up the stairs to listen in the passage - as she had done once before. She was gone for a quarter of an hour, then, like a ghost, she reappeared in the downstairs room and sat down. Immediately afterwards, the two men descended the stairs.

‘How pale you are, Nancy!’ said Fagin, once Monks had left the house. ‘What have you been doing to yourself?’

‘Nothing - except waiting here for you too long,’ she answered, turning her face away from him. ‘Now, where’s the money for Bill?’

With a sigh for every piece of money, Fagin put the agreed amount into her hand.

When Nancy was out in the street again, she sat down on a doorstep, and for a few minutes seemed unable to move. Then she started running wildly through the streets, and when she was exhausted she stopped and burst into tears. This strange mood seemed to leave her then, and she turned and hurried back to Sikes’ house.

At first when she returned, Sikes noticed nothing unusual about her. Fagin, with his sharp, suspicious eyes, would have noticed something at once. But as night came, the girl’s nervous excitement increased and even Sikes was alarmed by the paleness in her cheeks and the fire in her eye.

He lay in bed, drinking hot gin-and-water, and staring at her. ‘You look like a corpse that’s come back to life again. What’s the matter with you tonight?’

‘Nothing. Why are you staring at me so hard?’

‘Father you’ve caught the fever yourself, or - no, you’re not going to… you wouldn’t do that!’

‘Do what?’ asked the girl.

‘There’s not a girl alive as loyal as you. If you weren’t, I’d have cut your throat months ago. No, you must have the fever coming on, that’s it. Now, give me some of my medicine.’

Nancy quickly poured out his medicine with her back to him. He took it, and after turning restlessly for some time, he eventually fell into a deep, heavy sleep.

‘The drug’s taken effect at last,’ Nancy said to herself as she rose from her position beside the bed. ‘I hope I’m not too late.’

Quickly, she put on her coat and hat, looking round fearfully as if she expected at any moment to feel Sikes’ heavy hand on her shoulder. She kissed the robber’s lips softly, then ran from the house without a sound.

She hurried in the direction of west London, pushing past people on the pavement, and running across crowded streets without looking.

‘The woman is mad!’ said the people, turning to look at her as she rushed past them.

She came to a wealthier part of the town where the streets were quieter, and before long she had reached her destination. It was a family hotel in a quiet street near Hyde Park. The clock struck eleven as she entered.

The man at the desk looked at her and asked, ‘What do you want here?’

‘I want to see Miss Maylie.’

The man looked at the young woman with strong disapproval. ‘She won’t want to see someone like you. Come on, get out.’

‘Let me see her - or two of you will have to throw me out!’ said Nancy violently.

The man looked at her again, and decided it would be easier to do as she asked. He led her upstairs to Rose’s room.

Nancy entered with a brave face but with fear in her heart. ‘Please sit down and tell me why you wish to see me,’ said Rose Maylie, looking with some surprise at this poor, rough girl from the streets. Rose’s manner was so kind and sincere, and so unexpected, that Nancy burst into tears.

When she had recovered a little, she asked. ‘Is the door shut?’

‘Yes,’ answered Rose, a little nervously. ‘But why?’

‘Because I am about to put my life, and the lives of others, in your hands. I am the girl that kidnapped little Oliver and rook him back to old Fagin’s house on the night Oliver was going to the bookseller.’

‘You!’ said Rose.

‘Yes, it was me. I am that wicked creature you have heard about. I’ve no friends except thieves and robbers. I’ve lived on the streets since I was a child, cold, hungry, among people who are always drunk and fighting. And that’s where I’ll die, too.’

‘I pity you!’ said Rose in a broken voice.

‘But I’ll tell you why I’m here. Do you know a man called Monks?’

‘No,’ answered Rose.

‘He knows you. I heard him tell Fagin that you were at this hotel. Maybe he’s changed his name. Soon after Oliver was put into your house on the night of the robbery, I listened in secret to a conversation between Monks and Fagin in the dark. And I heard Monks say that he’d seen Oliver in the street, and that he knew at once Oliver was the child he was looking for, although I couldn’t hear why. Monks then agreed to pay Fagin some money if he could find Oliver again, and more money if he could turn the poor boy into a thief.’

‘Why?’ asked Rose.

‘He saw my shadow on the wall as I listened, and I had to escape. I didn’t see him again until last night.

‘And what happened then?

‘I listened at the door again. And I heard Monks say this: “So the only proof of the boy’s identity is at the bottom of the river, and the old woman who received it is dead.” He and Fagin laughed. Then Monks said that he had all Oliver’s money safely now, but how funny it would be it the boy went to prison for stealing, after his father’s unfair will.’

‘What is all this?’ asked Rose.

‘It’s the truth, lady. Then Monks said he couldn’t have Oliver killed because suspicion would point to himself. But he’d try for the rest of his life to harm the boy if he could. Then Monks laughed again about the money Oliver should have got from his father’s will. “My young brother Oliver will never see that money!” he said.

‘His brother!’ exclaimed Rose.

‘Those were his words,’ said Nancy, looking round uneasily, as if she still expected to see Sikes. ‘And then he talked about how amazed you would be if you knew who Oliver really was.’

And this man was serious?’

‘His voice was full of anger and hatred. I know many people who do worse things, but I’d rather listen to all of them than to this man Monks. But I must get back now, or people will wonder where I’ve been.’

‘Back! How can you go back to such a life?’ asked Rose. ‘You’ve told me all this. Now I can help you by letting you stay somewhere safe.’

‘No. Perhaps it’s hard for you to believe, but there’s one man, the most dangerous of them all, that I can never leave. You’re the first person who’s ever spoken to me so kindly - but it’s too late.’

‘It’s never too late!’

‘It is!’ cried the girl. ‘I can’t leave him now. And if I tell anyone about this man, he’ll die.’

‘But how can I find you again, when we want to investigate this mystery further?’

‘I’ll meet you secretly, if you promise not to watch or follow me,’ said Nancy. And if you promise just one more thing - not to do anything to hurt the man I can never leave.’

‘I promise.’

‘Every Sunday night, between eleven and twelve, I will walk on London Bridge if I am alive. Meet me there if you want more information.’

As Nancy said these words, she left the room and ran down the stairs and out into the street once more. Rose was left alone, her thoughts in great contusion, as she wondered desperately what to do and who to ask for advice.

The next morning, Oliver, who had been out walking, ran into Rose’s room at the hotel. He was breathless with excitement.

‘I can’t believe what I’ve seen! Now you’ll all know that I’ve told you the truth!’ he shouted.

‘I know you’ve always told us the truth - but what are you talking about?’ asked Rose.

‘I’ve seen Mr Brownlow, the kind man who was so good to me.’

‘Where?’

‘Going into a house, said Oliver, crying with joy. ‘I’ve got the address here.’

‘Quick,’ said Rose. ‘Call a coach. I’ll take you there immediately.’ The idea came to Rose that perhaps Mr Brownlow would advise her. She had been afraid to tell Nancy’s story to Dr Losberne, since the good doctor was very excitable and often acted with more enthusiasm than wisdom.

In less than five minutes they were in the coach on their way to the address. Rose went in first to talk to Mr Brownlow alone. She was taken into his study, and polite greetings were exchanged. When they were seated again, Rose said, ‘This will surprise you very much, but you were once very kind to a dear friend of mine, and I’m sure you will be interested to hear news of him.’

‘Really? May I ask you his name?’

‘Oliver Twist.’

Mr Brownlow said nothing for a few seconds, but simply stared at Rose. Finally he moved his chair nearer to her and said with great feeling, ‘I once thought that he was a liar and a thief. If you have evidence to show me I was wrong, please tell me at once.’

‘I know him to be a child with a warm heart,’ said Rose. ‘And despite the hardships of his life, he’s a better person than almost anyone I know.’

‘I looked for him everywhere,’ said Mr Brownlow, ‘but I could never find him. I could never quite believe that he really did intend to rob me.’

Rose told him everything that had happened to Oliver since then. She finished by saying, ‘And his only sorrow, for some months, has been that he could not find you, his former friend.’

‘Thank God!’ said Mr Brownlow. ‘This is great happiness to me, great happiness. But why haven’t you brought him with you, Miss Maylie?’

‘He’s waiting in a coach at the door,’ replied Rose.

Mr Brownlow hurried out of the room, down the stairs and into the coach without another word. In a minute he had returned with Oliver. ‘How well he looks!’ he said. ‘New clothes, the same sweet face, but not so pale; the same eyes, but not so sad.’

They talked with great joy for some time. Then Mr Brownlow sent for Mrs Bedwin, the old housekeeper. She came in quietly and waited for her orders.

‘You get blinder every day,’ said Mr Brownlow impatiently.

‘People’s eyes, at my time of life, don’t improve with age,’ replied the old lady.

‘Then put on your glasses.’

As she searched tor them in her pocket, Oliver could not wait any longer and ran into her arms.

‘Dear God!’ she said. ‘It’s my innocent boy!’

‘My dear old nurse!’ cried Oliver.

‘I knew he would come back,’ said the old lady, holding him in her arms. ‘How well he’s dressed - how well he looks again!’ She laughed and cried at the same time, and could not let Oliver go.

While Oliver talked to Mrs Bedwin, Rose asked Mr Brownlow if she could speak to him privately. He led her into another room, and there listened, with a good deal of amazement, to Rose’s account of her extraordinary conversation with Nancy. Between them, they decided that Mrs Maylie and Dr Losberne should be told, and that Mr Brownlow would come to the hotel that evening for a discussion. For the moment, nothing would be said to Oliver himself.

That evening at the hotel Oliver’s four friends met as arranged. Dr Losberne, of course, was full of immediate plans to rush round London arresting all the gang and hanging them at once. Mr Brownlow, fortunately, was able to persuade him to abandon this wild idea.

‘Then what’s to be done?’ cried the doctor impatiently.

‘First,’ said Mr Brownlow calmly, ‘we must discover who Oliver’s parents were. Then - if this girl’s story is true - we must regain the inheritance that should have been his.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said the doctor, nodding in agreement. ‘But how shall we achieve these aims?’

‘We must find this man Monks,’ said Mr Brownlow. ‘Nancy will not betray the man who is special to her, but she will surely agree to tell us how or where to find Monks. Then we must find a way to force Monks to talk. We must be both cautious and clever. After all, we have no proof against him, and if we cannot make him talk, this mystery will never be solved. But we’ll have to wait five days until Sunday before we can meet Nancy on London Bridge. Until then, we can do nothing.’

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