Oliver Twist HTML version

Chapter 39
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 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 housebreaker 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 eyeing 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 awkwardnewss, 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?'